ammonium reactor
Project (2017-)

Historical Sources and Contexts of Anthropocene Thinking

The idea that the face of the Earth is fundamentally transformed through human activities is nothing new. In fact, in the recent popularization of the term Anthropocene that started with an article by Paul J. Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer in the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) Newsletter in 2000, a list of prominent “precursors” of the Anthropocene concept quickly became canonized, listing such figures as the naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon in the eighteenth century, to the philologist George Perkins Marsh in the nineteenth century to the Russian biogeochemist Vladimir I. Vernadsky in the first half of the twentieth century. This established folklore neglects both the immediate insights of practitioners, more technically-oriented scientists, and natural philosophers at the fringes of this canon, as well as the more systematic turns in knowledge production over longer historical periods in thinking about the global environment in conjunction with understanding and articulating the human imprint on it. A longer-term publication endeavor aims at documenting and commenting the works and historical contexts of people and places that have either fallen into oblivion or deserve re-evaluation in light of the Anthropocene thesis. Reconstructing and contextualizing the works of scholars such as the ethnographer Dmitriy Nikolaevich Anuchin, the geographer Radim Kettner, or the chemist Alwin Mittasch help to consistently evaluate the historical and epistemological foundations of the Anthropocene. The researchers and contributors involved in this undertaking will focus on the early insights, theories, and models that already formulate essential characteristics of what today is labeled the Anthropocene. Such insights range from accounts of the Earth as an integrated system, whose equilibrium can be affected by human agency, to less deliberate and more local forms of reflection, for example, on industrial power and human impact.