Author Archives: Giuditta Parolini

EHESS Seminar Series “Perception du climat: les météores”

Paris, October 2018 – June 2019


Dans la continuité du séminaire « perception du climat » de l’Ehess et avec la collaboration de Météo-France, ce séminaire pluridisciplinaire, hébergé cette année par l’Ecole Normale Supérieure, propose un éclairage sur les météores. Son titre est emprunté au roman de Jules Verne qui a pour point de départ un article de presse relatant le passage d’un bolide traversant le nord de la France le soir du 16 août 1901.

Un météore est donc un phénomène, autre qu’un nuage, que les humains peuvent observer dans l’atmosphère céleste, donc en portant leur regard vers le haut (en grec ancien metéoros : signifie « qui est en haut »). Si l’on se réfère au dictionnaire de météorologie d’Oscar Villeneuve, il convient de distinguer les météores optiques, électriques, aqueux ou solides. Les nuages ne sont pas des météores.

La séance d’introduction rappellera l’histoire du mot et de la chose (de metéoros, « qui est en haut, qui s’élève »), depuis les Météorologiques d’Aristote jusqu’à l’actuelle typologie. Les séances suivantes seront chacune consacrées à un météore particulier, abordé sous un double angle, celui des représentations (littérature, peinture, mythologie…) et celui de la science météorologique  : le brouillard, la neige, l’arc-en-ciel, l’aurore boréale, les mirages, les « météores prodigieux ».


Première séance jeudi 18 octobre :

introduction sur les météores, Martine Tabeaud (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne) et Anouchka Vasak (Université de Poitiers)


Ecole Normale Supérieure, CERES, 24, rue Lhomond, 75005 Paris

salle E045, rez-de-chaussée, 15h-17h



Martin de la Soudière (Centre Edgar Morin)

Alexis Metzger (ENS, CERES)

Marie-Hélène Pépin (Météo-France)

Martine Tabeaud (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne)

Anouchka Vasak (Université de Poitiers)


Programme Séminaire perception du climat 18-19 2018-10-14 15_24_33

Symposia on the history of meteorological knowledge transfer in colonial contexts

European Society for the History of Science Conference, London September 2018

Conference report by Giuditta Parolini


Two linked symposia on “(Dis)Continuity Between the East and the West: The History of Meteorological Knowledge Transfer in Colonial Contexts”, sponsored by the International Commission for the History of Meteorology, took place in London this month during the conference of the European Society for the History of Science (14-17 September 2018).

Zhenghong Chen talking about meteorology in China

The symposia, convened by Fiona Williamson, Vladimir Jankovic and Alexander Hall, featured six talks on meteorological history across time and space. The talks investigated colonial contexts in a time frame that ranged from the early modern age to the twentieth century. The symposia engaged with the overarching theme of the conference – unity and disunity – by addressing continuities and discontinuities in Western and Eastern approaches to meteorology. ‘How did Western meteorological knowledge travel to the East?’, ‘What were the people and institutions that promoted its dissemination?’, ‘How was it received?’, ‘What kind of transformations and adaptations took place in the East?’ were questions common to all the talks presented at the conference.


The first symposium featured contributions from Zhenghong Chen (China Meteorological Administration Training Centre) on Chinese meteorology in the colonial era, Huib Zuidervaart (Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands) and Stefan Grab (University of Witswatersrand) on meteorological observations in the Dutch colonies during the early modern period, and Martin Mahony (University of East Anglia) on meteorological knowledge production in colonial Mauritius. During the second symposium George Adamson (King’s College London) discussed Gilbert Walker’s work on Indian climate and the Southern Oscillation, Joan Kenworthy (Independent scholar) considered how local meteorological knowledge influenced the understanding of climate in the Kenyan highlands, and Giuditta Parolini (TU Berlin) addressed the case of agricultural meteorology in French Indochina during the early twentieth century.

Martin Mahony on meteorology in Mauritius

The symposia were conceived as an opportunity to investigate the networks of meteorological knowledge exchange between East and West, so far understudied, and to examine how this knowledge exchange affected the material culture and intellectual terrain of the atmospheric sciences both in the colonies and in the West. As argued by Zuidervaart and Grab, the creation of meteorological knowledge in colonial contexts has a long history indeed. Meteorological observations were already common in Dutch colonial settlements in the early modern age and the records of these meteorological observations found their way back to the homeland, where they were discussed within scientific societies.


During the colonial age, Western meteorological science often contributed to the growth of local knowledge in the atmospheric sciences. As discussed by Chen, China offers a clear example of this, because the work done by missionaries and the observatories built by Western nations promoted the development of a local tradition in meteorology. Yet, it would be mistaken to assume that local meteorological knowledge did not exist in the colonies. In the case of East Africa discussed by Kenworthy, colonial and local meteorological knowledge both existed, but issues arose in the attempt to merge the two discourses.

Starting from the nineteenth century, meteorological knowledge became a key asset in the colonies due to the value of meteorological data in many human enterprises, ranging from agriculture to navigation. The meteorological observatory in Port Louis, Mauritius, discussed by Mahoney, and the agrometeorological service in French Indochina, discussed by Parolini, are just two examples of the economic value that meteorological knowledge increasingly acquired, and how colonial authorities sought to generate and exploit such knowledge. Adamson’s talk on the Southern Oscillation added an additional perspective. If Gilbert’s research was prompted by the economic issues posed by the variability of the monsoon in India, understanding his theory of the Southern Oscillation requires shifting the vision from a place-specific case study to the spatially connected world of climate oscillations.

Joan Kenworthy on meteorology in East Africa

The stimulating questions and engaging discussions that took place during the Q&A contributed further to enlarge the panorama of meteorological knowledge in the colonies by establishing comparisons with case studies of colonial meteorology not discussed during the panel, and by drawing connections between historical, geographical and cultural studies of weather and climate.


Asian Extremes: Climate, Meteorology and Disaster in History

Conference report by Fiona Williamson


This conference (17 -18 May 2018) was organised by the Asia Research Institute (ARI), National University of Singapore (NUS); with support from International Commission on the History of Meteorology (ICHM), and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS).

The overarching aim of this conference was to explore the weather in the history of anthropogenic Asia. Asia was critical to the development of global meteorological science: understanding extremes such as typhoons were essential to trade, economy and society. Despite the centrality of extreme weather to urban Asia historically (and in the present day) however, this subject has remained relatively under researched. Climate and weather history are established, yet developing fields, although arguably, studies in this field have disproportionately favoured Northern Europe and the US, in large part because of the greater availability and accessibility of records. There are still many knowledge gaps for Asia, partly because of the paucity of records in comparison to Europe or because many archives have either been restricted or have only relatively recently been opened. This conference therefore aimed to fill a knowledge gap; connect with historiographical trends that view scientific history as a globally linked enterprise and, bring scholars working in the field together in discussion. It also explored interdisciplinary work on the subject, with papers from historians, anthropologists and scientists.


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