S1 – Past and Present Waterscapes: Geological Agency in the Longue Durée
Venice is the perfect setting for a renewed reflection on the interplay between nature and culture in the longue durée at the crossroad of human history and natural history.
This seminar is specifically dedicated to the exploration of the anthropic history of water and human cultures in the longue durée in a comparative and inter-disciplinary spirit.
It responds to the growing demand for ‘more history’ on the part of the earth sciences and environmental politics. The impending climate crisis—the iconic images of which range from the melting poles to the drowning water-city of Venice and the burning of Brazilian and Australian forests—creates a broad, heavily debated and politically explosive field of science in action.
Current studies at the crossroads of the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities, which run under the label of ‘Anthropocene’, reflect on the origins of the human induced environmental crisis. Historicizing the Anthropocene in the longue durée is meant to shed light on the many different institutions, social groups, technologies and belief-systems that power the broad concept of Anthropocene.
In spite of some ambivalence, the concept of geological agency offers an attractive heuristic tool because it brings humans, matter, time, and history to the center of the natural discourse. The problem of the incommensurable commensurability of historical time and geological time—or the problem of reinterpreting the records of human past against the background of ‘deep time’—has come to the fore after the two temporalities reached a synchronic moment of convergence at our entrance into an epoch, the ‘rhythms’ of which are both social and geological. From these geological and historical temporalities further scientific and methodological questions arise. Most importantly, how can we make the collaboration between the natural sciences and cultural studies fruitful, if the respective epistemological premises are so different?
Past and Present Waterscapes: Geological Agency in the Longue Durée
The prototypical natural scientist and cultural scholar address the same object of inquiry (say, the environment) with very different disciplinary lenses (or ‘epistemic values’); an epistemology of objectivity and quantitative measurement, in the former case, and one of subjectivity and historicity, in the latter. The question of how the perspectives of those who look at the earth and the environment as natural phenomena, and those who look at them as cultural products, can be harmonized and unified is far from settled. In order to find alternative ways to address and perhaps solve these problems, the seminar looks back at times and scientific cultures that existed before the emergence of Capitalist economy and industrialization as well as during such modern techno-economical revolutions. It investigates contexts, in which our divide between nature and culture operated differently and the boundary was seen as a continuum rather than as a division.
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