Climate & the Beginning of the Crisis Decades

A one-day workshop that seeks to generate critical transdisciplinary engagement around climate research and discourse in the 1970s

Friday, 30 August 2024, 9-5pm
CHSTM Seminar Room: Simon 2.57 [maps and travel]

Organisers: Robert NaylorElliot Honeybun-ArnoldaRuth Morgan

Please register here to attend in person
Please register here to attend online

Open to a range of disciplinary backgrounds, this workshop concerns the resonances of climate-based narratives and the growth of climate research during the long decade of the 1970s. The 1970s have been acknowledged as a period of political, economic, scientific, and cultural transition. Daniel T. Rogers has described the 1970s as the beginning of an age of fracture, when the discursive, economic, and political landscape was torn apart and reformed. Eric Hobsbawm has written that the decade heralded “a world that lost its bearings and slid into instability and crisis.” It is during this time of crisis that climate change narratives began to emerge into the political spotlight. As shown by scholars such as Spencer Weart and Joshua Howe, reasons for this increase in status include, as a few examples, the rising influence of the environmentalist movement, neo-Malthusian fears of population explosion supposedly accentuated by adverse climatic effects on crop yields, and (controversially) the usefulness of climate change arguments for the nuclear power lobby during a time of energy and oil crisis.

Conference Opportunities

Insular weathers, global atmospheres: Exploring the aerial histories of islands

Atmospheric Humanities Conference II

1-3 November 2024

Historical and Popular Art Museum of Aegina, Greece

Small island countries in the Caribbean and the Pacific and Indian Ocean have always been exposed to extreme weather, but the last decades have made it clear that they are also the biggest future victims of climate change. However, islands are also key sites in the history of science. Much weather and climate knowledge derives from island sites. When European and North American countries started launching weather balloons around 1900 to measure the upper atmosphere, next to ships, islands formed key launching sites. Islands were ideal places to measure the interaction of the global atmosphere, the land and the ocean. The Keeling curve was the result of decades of accurate and continuous measurements at Mauna Loa observatory on Hawaii. Moreover, islands have also became important meteorological metaphors: think about ‘heat islands’ in urban cities, where microclimates create islands where before there were none.

Notes & Letters

The 6th Conference on the History of Chinese Meteorological Science and Technology

Nanjing City, China, 20-23 October 2023

By Zhenghong Chen, ICHM Vice-President and China Regional Representative

The 6th Conference on the History of Chinese Meteorological Science and Technology was successfully held in Nanjing City, China in October 2023. This conference was organized by Professor Zhenghong Chen, Vice-President of ICHM and Regional Representative of China, and co-hosted by the China Meteorological Administration Training Centre (CMATC), the Committee for the History of China Meteorological Science and Technology, and Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology (NUIST). Under the background of addressing global climate change, the theme of the conference was “Research on Meteorological History and Communication of Meteorological Culture.” The conference promoted the dissemination of the history of meteorological technology and culture in Chinese universities and across diverse disciplines.

Group photo of conference participants

Professor Li Beiqun, President of NUIST, Professor Sun Xiaochun, President of the Chinese Society for the History of Science and Technology, Professor Xu Xiaofeng, Former Deputy Administrator of China Meteorological Administration, and President of the China Meteorological Service Association, Professor Yu Yubin, President of the CMATC, and Professor Zhenghong Chen, as Vice-President and China Regional Representative of ICHM, opened the conference.

Opportunities Publications

Call for Papers: ‘Connecting Oceanic Asia’

For a Special Issue of our journal History of Meteorology edited by Dr. Xiao Liu and Dr Zhenwu Qiu

We’re looking for contributors for an exciting special issue of our journal History of Meteorology titled, “Connecting Oceanic Asia: Production and Application of Meteorological Knowledge”. We are after exciting original papers which focus on any aspect of how modern meteorological knowledge was produced under the influence of regional interactions in East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia.

The collection is being edited by HoM Editorial Collective member, Dr Xiao (Shawn) Liu (Tsinghua University) and his colleague Dr Zhenwu Qiu. Papers can be up to 10,000 words, including citations, see the full style guide and information for more. All papers must be in English, however, we can provide extra copy-editing support for any authors for whom English is a second language. Abstract should be submitted by 10th December and we would expect the selected contributors to provide their draft paper by 15th March 2024 (however, there is some flexibility on this timeline).

We already have several contributors lined up for the special issue, but are seeking another 2 – 3 authors to come on board as contributors. If you are interested in contributing to this special issue or have any questions please reach out to the editors directly. To propose a contribution please send an abstract (no more than 300 words) and a brief C.V. to the below email addresses.

Contact Information:

Dr. Xiao (Shawn) LIU (

Dr. Zhenwu QIU (

Abstract Submission Deadline: 10th December, 2023 (The selected contributors would be expected to provide their draft paper by 15th March 2024)

Please do share this announcement with any relevant colleagues and networks.

Notes & Letters

Cultivating Transdisciplinarity: Report from the Workshop Climate, Food & Famine

By Robert Naylor, Eleanor Shaw, and Yixuan Li

Manchester, UK, 14 April 2023

Due to ICHM’s generous support, Manchester’s Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM) was able to host the one-day workshop Climate, Food & Famine. The event was attended by scholars from around the world, and generated productive cross-disciplinary discussion on the complex relationship between food systems and atmosphere.

The event was opened by a short speech from CHSTM’s director Carsten Timmermann, who highlighted the Centre’s long history of a critical approach to the history of science, technology, and medicine. The workshop then proceeded with the first panel, Climate and the Causes of Hunger and Malnutrition, which highlighted the complexities of attributing any breakdown of social systems to specific causes such a climate change.

The first speaker was Tolulope Esther Fadeyi of the University of Basel, who highlighted the role of poor governance in causing failures in maternal nutrition in the urban slum of Iwaya, Lagos. Much of the literature on the experiences of contemporary slum dwellers in Lagos attributes poor living conditions, nutrition and maternal health outcomes to climatic change, but for Fadeyi, such systemic failures often had their roots in colonial modes of land division and usage.

The next speaker was Heli Huhtamaa of the University of Bern, who discussed the spatial patterns of harvest failures and famine mortality in pre-industrial Finland. Here Huhtamaa highlighted the value and potential of an interdisciplinary approach, using geographical information systems (GIS) not only to analyse her datasets in an innovative way, but also to communicate the significance of such datasets effectively to a non-specialist audience. One of the striking features of Huhtamaa’s talk was her acknowledgement of the agency of those suffering from hunger as well their traditional coping strategies. Hungry people move quite considerable distances in response to environmental stressors, meaning that the distribution of hunger does not often reflect the distribution of adverse climate conditions or harvest failures, but rather lack of proximity to viable travel routes.

The panel was closed by Richard Warren, also of the University of Bern, who discussed the climate and human impacts of the 1831 and 1835 volcanic eruptions in India. With a magisterial use of flowcharts, Warren emphasised complex feedback mechanisms produced by policy decisions of the British East India Company that contributed, often quite decisively, to the famines that accompanied such eruptions.

In general, the first panel highlighted how governance is an essential ingredient for understanding climate impacts, an angle that is often suppressed when international organisations conceptualise climate change as a “scientific” issue.

After a tasty lunch provided by the University of Manchester’s catering provider, the workshop moved on to the second panel, which was entitled Changing Agriculture, Changing Tastes. The panel was opened by Theo Tomking of the University of York, who discussed climatological attributions in soil maps of the mid-twentieth century. The colonial perception of the challenge of producing food in the tropics adopted climatic conditions as an explanation over the course of the mid-twentieth century, often centring on the presence of red lateritic soil. Tomking showed that earlier soil maps did not support this climatic attribution thesis, and instead emphasised the diversity and nuance of varying soil types across tropics. Tomking argued that this complexity was in fact obfuscated over time.

Next Julia McClure from the University of Glasgow took attendees on a romp through hundreds of years of Mayan Central American history. McClure explored the connection between Indigenous agro-ecological systems and cosmological belief systems that connected communities to cycles of time and meaning, including beliefs about climate. The imposition of commercial agricultural systems by colonial forces challenged and in many cases extinguished indigenous modes of production, prioritising monocultures and cash crops that have contributed to climate change.

Finally, Anaïs Mansouri from the University of Geneva explored the World Food Programme’s approach to the relationship between climate and food and famine from the 1970s. Mansouri argued that the WFP, unlike many other UN agencies, did not discuss the relationship between the food shortages they were responding to and ideas of climatic change until the late 1980s and early 1990s. Mansouri also argued that the political position of the WFP and its relationship to other UN agencies was responsible for this position, until wider societal discourses on climatic change prompted a distinct change in narrative.

Overall the second panel explored the perceived connections between agricultural and food supply practices and the climate, and rebuffed the notion that these connections have always been considered as causal and simple.

The final panel was called Moral and Political Perspectives on Climate and Food, and concerned conceptualisations of the atmosphere-governance relationship that often had an explicitly moral character. The panel was opened by Doreen Müller of Leiden University whose paper provided a rich visual representation of the moral responsibility for sufficient food believed to be held by the emperor in early modern Japan. Rice was rationalised as a moral and material link between people and the environment, and its distribution during times of hardship was seen as an essential feature of good governance. Müller argued that the climatic components of the moral economy of rice changed during the time of the Tenp? Era Famine (1833–39), as visual and textual narratives commemorating famine traced climate events and their relation to the human world in unprecedented detail.

Müller was followed by Semih Çelik of the University of Exeter, who examined the “Hungry [eighteen] Forties” in the Anatolian regions of the Ottoman Empire. Çelik examined official correspondence, newspapers, poetry, and private letters to explore the meanings attributed to the food scarcity in Anatolia. Governing parties and their newspapers minimised the hunger experienced, unable to reconcile the need to portray the empire as thriving and climatically blessed with the scarcity. The connection between famine and climate in locations outside the Ottoman Empire, such as Ireland, was increasingly recognised by these groups however. Outside elite circles, social memory provided an interpretation of extreme climatic events that acknowledged famine and engaged with discourses of world ending and hopelessness. The resulting bread riots and social unrest, for Çelik, demonstrates the gulf between official and popular cosmologies of climate, scarcity, and hunger.

The workshop was brought to a close by Baihui Duan of the University of Oxford, who explored the Little Ice Age theory that has been used to explain natural disasters and famines in Asia in the seventeenth century. Like Çelik, Duan explored the discrepancy between official and popular perceptions of climate and the perceived correlation between long-term drought and poor harvests. Within official circles, the widely held Confucian belief in the connection between the moral conduct of the king and the presence of extreme climatic events and natural disasters restricted their attributions and actions to those which would ensure political stability. Ultimately Duan called into question the existing literature on the Little Ice Age in Korea due to its failure to engage with the underlying political discourses of benevolence within official accounts.

Discussions of a variety of moral discourses in the past help us understand how climate change might act as a moral concept in the twenty-first century. Whether we feel guilty about buying a second-hand petrol car, condemn frequent flyers, or protest at climate conferences, the moral perspectives of climate discourse deserve continued attention.

Discussion both during and after the workshop was rich. David Schultz of Manchester’s Centre for Atmospheric Science gave the meteorologist’s perspective, providing insights into the possible mechanisms behind many of the events that were discussed. Jon Roberts of the University of Leeds drew comparisons between Tomking’s work on soils and his own work on hookworm prevalence in colonial contexts, informing the workshop that colonial officers hypothesised that hookworm prevalence could be related to soil types. This highlighted that such colonial discussions of environmental determinism went well beyond climate. Alex Hibberts of the University of Durham asked some insightful questions of what caused our current science-based conceptualisation of climate to arise. The workshop made clear how the climate–society relationship has been conceptualised in so many different ways over the centuries. What are the assumptions that underpin the current dominant mode of climate discourse? Only by paying attention to the past can we understand the depths of questions such as this.

We would like to reiterate our thanks to ICHM for providing core funding for the workshop. We would also like to express our thanks to CHSTM and the Northern Environmental History Network for their support.

Notes & Letters

A History of the Wind

by Alain Corbin

With extreme-weather events becoming more common, we’re more conscious than ever of the destructive power of the wind. To watch hurricanes devastate coastal cities and tornados rip apart houses is to witness the full fury of nature’s vital force.

Online Seminar

Governing Climate in the U.S.: An Historical Sociology

By Dr Zeke Baker, online, 24 April 2023, 08:00 PDT (UTC-7)

ICHM Annual Seminar Series

Join us for the next seminar in our 2022-23 series, when the environmental sociologist, Dr Zeke Baker (Sonoma State University) will be speaking about his research on the history of climate governance in the US.

Register to attend the online seminar here:

To receive information about the rest of the 2022/23 seminar series, and other ICHM activities, sign-up to our mailing list:

Notes & Letters

Military applications and meteorological reputations: Franz Baur and the fate of long-range weather forecasting

By Rasmus Wiuff

An accompaniment to the article ‘Was Franz Baur’s infamous long-range weather forecast for the winter of 1941/42 on the Eastern Front really wrong?Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, January 2023

On 22 June 1941, Hitler began Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union with the aim of ending the campaign before winter. The soldiers therefore had no winter equipment, not even in the depots behind the front. The equipment, including guns, rifles and tanks, was not suitable for heavy frost and snow, in contrast to the Soviets’ equipment. In the first few months, the campaign went as planned for the Germans, but then came autumn with rain and mud, the time of year that the Germans call Schlammperiode (mud period) and the Russians more poetically refer to as rasputiza (slush). The Germans faced poor mobility and were stuck for four weeks.

Online Seminar

Letters to the Editor: Reporting Disasters in Late Nineteenth Century Philippines

By Prof. Greg Bankoff, online, 21 Feb 2023, 10:00 UTC/GMT

ICHM Annual Seminar Series

Join us for our first seminar of 2023 with historical geographer, Professor Greg Bankoff (Ateneo de Manila University) who will be speaking about his research on newspaper reporting of disasters in the Philippines in the nineteenth century.

Register to attend the online seminar here:

To receive information about the rest of the 2022/23 seminar series, and the other ICHM activities, sign-up to our mailing list:

Online Seminar

Textualizing Typhoons: Historical Vignettes on Philippine Typhoons, 1600s-2000s

By Dr Kerby Alvarez, online, 7 December 2022, 18:00 PHST (UTC+8)

ICHM Annual Seminar Series

Join us for the second of our new online seminar series on 7th December when the historian of science Dr Kerby Alvarez (University of the Philippines Diliman) will be speaking about his research on the history of typhoons in the Philippines.

Register to attend the online seminar here:

To receive information about the rest of the 2022/23 seminar series, and the rest of ICHM’s activities, sign-up to our mailing list:


This seminar will discuss and examine textualizations of typhoons in Philippine history from the 1600s to the 2000s. The textualization comes in two forms: (1) typhoons and typhoon events and experiences as “historical texts” that illustrate the perceptions and understanding of Filipino communities in a given historical milieu; and (2) typhoons as object/subject of scientific investigations and policy reforms in disaster responses. The first deals with typhoons serving as vignettes of culture and historicity, and the second deals with scientific and historical knowledge production schemes in the aftermath of disastrous typhoon experiences.


Dr. Kerby C. Alvarez is an Associate Professor at the Department of History, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman. His research interests include environmental history, history of science, history of hazards and disasters in the Philippines and Southeast Asia, Philippine nationalism, and the local history of his hometown, Malabon. His publications include “Instrumentation and Institutionalization: Colonial Science and the Observatorio Meteorologico de Manila, 1865-1899.” (Philippine Studies: Historical and Ethnographic Viewpoints, 2016), “The June 1863 and the July 1880 Earthquakes in Luzon, Philippines: Interpretations and Disasters.” (Illes I Imperis, 2020), and “Patriotic Masculinity: Nationalism and Masculinity in Select Philippine Historical Films.” (Southeast Asian Media Studies Journal, 2021).