Environmental History and Outer Space: Linking Terrestrial and Extraterrestrial Natures across Time
This session seeks to find common ground between two overlapping and interdisciplinary fields: environmental history and space history. Although both explore the history of science, technology, and culture, environmental historians tend to restrict their analyses of “nature” to the earth while space historians usually refrain from thinking of outer space as an environment. This session will initiate a conversation between environmental and space historians, extend the methodological reach of both fields, and apply their analytical insights to more mainstream themes in world history.
In accordance with the conference theme, “History and the Other Disciplines,” the session planners have assembled papers on a wide range of subjects from disparate time periods that draw heavily on the space sciences, including astronomy, astronautics, astrobiology, planetary science, and others. Michael Rawson’s paper will explore seventeenth-century Europe’s fascination with extraterrestrial environments after the publication of Galileo’s Starry Messenger in 1610. This, Rawson argues, was a key moment in the history of environmental thought, a moment when humanity’s environmental imagination expanded to take in the entire universe. Neil Maher’s paper will analyze how the environmental history of NASA’s astronauts influenced, and was influenced by, the feminist movement of the 1970s. According to Maher, the space agency’s gendered history involving fit male bodies, protective spacesuits, and simulated space environments built back down on Earth to train Apollo astronauts ultimately launched a backlash by second wave feminists that transformed the space race. Lisa Messeri will present research illustrating how NASA, led by climate scientist James Hansen, based its early mathematical models of earth’s atmosphere on atmospheric models for Mars and Venus. The environment, she concludes from this case study, is often “something that is scientifically created in conversation with processes that occur on other planets.”
Because this session covers time periods ranging from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries, spans locations from Europe to the United States to Mars and Venus, and includes methodologies beyond history involving science and technology studies, it will appeal to a broad audience. Along with environmental and space historians, scholars who study science, technology, medicine, politics, gender, culture, and society will all find in these papers new models for interdisciplinary work.