The Anthropocene versus Climate Change as Historical Frameworks, Part 1: CANCELLED The Anthropocene versus Climate Change as Historical Frameworks, Part I: Deep History, Current History

AHA Session 72
Friday, January 7, 2022: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Galerie 2 (New Orleans Marriott, 2nd Floor)
John R. McNeill, Georgetown University
Dan Smail, Harvard University

Session Abstract

The Anthropocene v. Climate Change as Historical Frameworks

What's the difference between "climate change" and "the Anthropocene" as frameworks for history? These two conjoined panels explore this important question. We strive to disentangle the sciences involved, chart the development of these concepts, and distinguish the different histories that each framework illuminates. The goal is less to decide which lens is "best" than it is to reflect on their inherent narrative and normative possibilities and, further, to consider the intermediate concept of "anthropogenic climate change" in its relation to both of them.

Just as the scientific understanding of climate change preceded the emergence of the Anthropocene concept, so too has climate history preceded Anthropocene history. Climate history is by now a well-established subfield, with a rich literature, an increasingly sophisticated archive, and a developed organization, the Climate History Network: By comparison, Anthropocene history is still in its infancy, despite important early contributions by John R. McNeill, Libby Robin, and Dipesh Chakrabarty. The contrasts between them are great. Although human beings have always coped with changing climates, the proposed Anthropocene is only about seventy years old. While it is possible to suggest an eighteenth-century, Western industrial origin for anthropogenic climate change, the human forces ultimately leading to the twentieth-century Anthropocene are more diffuse, ranging from the mastery of fire by our hominid ancestors to the mastery of nanotechnologies, from the invention of agriculture to atomic bombs, from population growth to imperialism. What's at stake in the framework of "climate history," "Anthropocene history," and "anthropogenic climate change history" is how to tell the stories of human relationships with the planet, and what might constitute hope and justice on our altered planet.

The speakers in this two-session panel all take different positions on these questions. In general, the first panel is concerned with deep history and the relationship between humanity and the planet over vast stretches of time, contending with the changing climate and mastering microbes to achieve more and more dominance. The second set of panel examines the tension between Anthropocene and climate change frameworks in early modern and modern history, especially in relation to energy. The two panels are framed by papers from Thomas and Simon laying out theoretical and political concerns. Participants include both established scholars and people at the beginning of their careers. Scholars draw from the histories of America, Europe, and Asia, from paleohistory to contemporary developments.