Sverker Sörlin | 2017 Distinguished Lecture


Sverker Sörlin delivers the History of Science Society’s 2017 Distinguished Lecture, “Greening the Great White: Encounters of Knowledge and Environment – and the Northern Turn in the History of Science.”

Selected Texts by Sverker Sörlin:

More Selected Texts on the Northern Turn:

Sörlin, professor at the KTH Institute in Sweden, provides the following abstract of his talk:

When, in 1993, Trevor Levere at the University of Toronto published Science and the Canadian Arctic very little modern history of science had been devoted to the region. Local ways of knowing in the Arctic had been studied by anthropologists since the days of Franz Boas and there was a long tradition in many countries to chronicle the history of exploration as a series of adventures and patriotic deeds, also when explorers were scientists or scholars, such as Fritdtjof Nansen, Knud Rasmussen, or Georgy Sedov. Even as interest grew in colonial and postcolonial science since the 1960s little attention was paid to science in the Arctic. This has now changed completely. Since the 1990s, and most especially during and after the International Polar Year in 2007-2009 there has been an explosion of research among historians on the Arctic and the circumpolar North, and a sprinkling on Antarctica as well. This growing interest reflects geopolitical concerns: waning sea ice due to climate change, pressures on local and especially indigenous populations, traumas and tensions but also hopes of a region which has drawn attention for its rich energy and mineral resources, and its potential for shipping and commerce. The “bellwether North” has become a metaphor, signaling the wide geophysical ramifications of the changes in the Arctic, as earth systems “teleconnections” link these with CO2 emissions in the industrialized world and with effects on tropical monsoons.

In this lecture I will present and reflect upon this ongoing ‘Northern turn’ in the history of science. I will argue that it is expanding and enriching the agenda of history of science in several dimensions: through the interest in culturally diverse ways of knowing the earth and its elements; through the approaches towards the science of global change and the politics of global challenges; and, perhaps most pervasively, through the growing interaction between the multiple strands of history – environmental, technological, diplomatic, and the history of science – that are coming together near the poles, signaling the emergence of a relevant, integrative, and transformative environmental history of science.

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