Thomas Turnbull

Visiting Postdoctoral Fellow (Jan 2018-Jan 2019)


Thomas’s research interests lie at the intersection of history of science and historical geography. He gained his doctorate from the School of Geography at the University of Oxford in 2017. His thesis, titled "From Paradox to Policy: The Problem of Energy Resource Conservation in Britain and America, 1865-1981," provided a history of energy resource conservation as both science and policy. Aside from this, amongst other things, he worked as a policy advisor for an environmental think tank, and on a project involved in preserving endangered languages. Before joining Department I, he was the Institute for Electronic and Electrical Engineers (IEEE) Life Members Fellow in the History of Electrical and Computing Technology.

His thesis documented the emergence of a body of knowledge that espoused the belief that society could act to conserve energy via the efficient use or cessation of fuel use. During the long twentieth century, this claim was articulated by researchers and policy advocates in a wide variety of fields, from control engineering to particle physics. Catalyzed by a series of energy crises, a science of "energy resource conservation" developed into a comprehensive approach to energy resource economy via a far-reaching set of policy recommendations. The history of this interplay between science and policy is told via a series of contested, resolved, and ongoing controversies regarding the efficacy of energy conservation measures.

Whilst at Department I, he intends to continue working on a book based on his doctoral research. He is also working on a historiographic study of "energy transition," addressing canonical "energy" histories of the Industrial Revolution. Alongside these projects, Thomas is also working on a series of studies on the role the concept of energy has played in the development of various human sciences, from geography to anthropology.

His recent publications include: an account of the British government’s response to the "World3" model, upon which the Limits to Growth study was based (forthcoming in Agar, J., Ward, J eds., Histories of Technology, the Environment and Modern Britain, UCL Press); and a review essay discussing William Thomas’ book Rational Action (2015) MIT Press, and the role of critique in the history of policy science more generally.


Histories of Energy Resource Conservation: from Paradox to Policy


Material Practices: Earth in the Making


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