“We are Making a New World”: Total War and the Transformation of Nature

Thursday, January 2, 2014: 4:30 PM
Columbia Hall 7 (Washington Hilton)
Richard Samuel Deese, Boston University
In 1918, the English landscape painter and combat veteran Paul Nash unveiled a canvas depicting a pale sun rising above the lifeless and cratered landscape of the Western Front. The title of this work, “We Are Making a New World”, took a clear shot at the rhetoric that had been used to rally support for the war, but it also conveyed a more resonant message: the industrial capacity and technological expertise that had been organized and unleashed by the Great War heralded the advent of an age in which human beings might acquire the power to transform nature completely. The dream of transforming nature through science and technology had been an element in Western thought since at least the time of Francis Bacon, but now, for good or ill, that dream had the potential to become a reality. This paper will explore how a number of European and American scientists, engineers, and conservationists contemplated the technological transformation of nature in the aftermath of the First World War. Among the figures to be considered in this paper will be Vladimir Vernadsky, Leó Szilárd, Julian Huxley, William Henry Smyth, and Benton Mackaye.
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