From a global history perspective, the transition of energy systems from organic to fossil fuels took place in different epochs. The English transition started in the sixteenth century, while in other parts of the world, coal and petroleum grew in importance only in the twentieth century. Furthermore, local conditions changed from place to place: the knowledge of how to detect and to mine coal, available capital, political and administrative restrictions and encouragement, the environmental conditions (especially the geology and topography), the market for extracted coals, and the main d’oeuvre are key factors in designating the evolution of this transition. Before petroleum came into massive usage from the 1920s onwards and new methods of chemical analysis of coal were developed, coal was the driving force of the first industrialization for more than 200 years. Coal was a rather undiscerned matter that engendered many of the industrialization production processes and forms of combustible use from which later developments were derived.
In this project, coal is investigated as an object of multidisciplinary studies in order to understand how, in relation to knowledge, societies developed and non-human processes were recognized, and why coal became the main agent in the energy transition from organic combustibles to fossil combustibles and which consequences this transition entailed on a global scale. The project focuses on the first industrial revolution and the subsequent industrial alteration of natural carbon cycles by humans, when for the first time in human history such fossil fuels as coal and lignite were used on a massive scale as combustibles in industrial production. The results of this research will be presented in an edited volume on coal as the subject of a history of resources is in preparation as well as a monograph on the Global History of Mineral Coal: Knowledge and Energy Transitions 1700–1920.