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Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

Earth sciences

First ever "Earthrise" photograph, taken from lunar orbit during Apollo 8, 1968.
Image from the NASA Apollo Archive. Used with permission.

Recent debate on climate change has put the geosciences under the spotlight. Yet, if we now see scientific knowledge of the earth as critical to tackling global warming, we still don’t know enough about its nature and origins.

The effort to better understand the history of the geosciences is now driving historical research at CHSTM which looks, in particular, at the role that historical context has played in the growth of earth studies. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, these studies underwent an important transformation. Even before environmental preoccupations took centre stage, a number of overlapping problems such as the search for raw materials, the push to expand international trade and commerce, the needs of colonialism and, last but not least, the strategic and military urgencies of the Cold War played a key role in defining patronage and new lines of enquiry.

At Manchester, we seek to find out about the shaping of this new global research dimension. We have a diverse research programme that includes the historical study of practical geology, the rise of geophysics and geophysical prospecting, tides and waves in oceanographic research, and the development of glaciology in relation to the exploration of Antarctica.

A major boost to this activity has come with CHSTM's role in hosting The Earth Under Surveillance (TEUS). This pioneering European Research Council-funded project, in collaboration with leading history of science centres at the Universities of Strasbourg and Barcelona, aims to understand how the confrontation between superpowers propelled scientific studies of the earth in Europe. Among its innovative features is a focus on the interplay and mutual shaping of the geosciences and intelligence programmes, especially in the organisation of geophysical explorations.

Recent publications by CHSTM staff and students

Simone Turchetti. The Pontecorvo affair. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, forthcoming. Previously published in Italian: Il caso Pontecorvo: fisica nucleare, politica e sicurezza nazionale durante la Guerra Fredda. Milano: Sironi Editore, 2007.

Simone Turchetti, Katrina Dean, Simon Naylor and Martin Siegert. "On thick ice: scientific internationalism and Antarctic affairs, 1957-1980". History and Technology, 2008,24(4): 351-376.

Simone Turchetti, Katrina Dean, Simon Naylor and Martin Siegert. "Accidents and opportunities: a history of the radio echo sounding of Antarctica". British Journal for the History of Science, 2008, 41(3): 417-444.

Leucha Veneer. "Provincial geology and the Industrial Revolution". Endeavour, 2006, 30(2): 76-80.

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