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Exploring nuclear Germany

This text was first published by Per Högselius on the Nuclearwaters-Blog on 3 December 2021.

Exploring nuclear Germany

As the most recent wave of the corona pandemic rolls in over Europe, it seems that much of the past summer and autumn was a narrow window of opportunity for international travel. I now feel happy that I managed to make use of that window.

Profile picture of Per Högselius

In late September I went to Regensburg to participate in a conference on infrastructures in East and Southeast Europe (see my separate blogpost on that). After the conference, I stayed on in Bavaria for a couple of days. I rented a car and a bike and went to take a close look at the water supply arrangements for three German nuclear power plants and the nuclearized landscapes that have emerged as a result of nuclear construction there from the 1960s to the 1980s.

Gundremmingen is the only German nuclear power plant situated directly on the Danube. It started to be built already in 1962 and was one of Germany’s first nuclear power plants. There was a fierce debate during construction about possible contamination of the region’s drinking water. Less known is that plant construction demanded a complex reengineering of the Danube, which was dammed upstreams and also a few kilometres downstream to create a reliable and regular water flow for cooling the reactors. This generated an artificial water reservoir, the shores of which, as I was able to experience directly, are nowadays still very popular places for various leisure activities. Nuclear hydraulic engineers also built a canal to divert Danube water to the nuclear plant. The early pioneering reactor at Gundremmingen was shut down long ago. However, the plant was expanded through the addition of two much more powerful reactors: one boiling water reactor (seen to the left in one of the pictures below) and one pressurized water reactor (seen to the right), which today makes the plant area look very diverse. The pressurized water reactor was closed in 2017. The boiling water reactor, supported by one cooling tower, is still in operation, but like all remaining German NPPs, its days are numbered.

The Isar nuclear power plant is named after the Danube tributary on which it was built. Here, too, nuclear construction was intimately linked to other hydraulic projects aimed at “taming” the river. The Isar was dammed and equipped with hydroelectric turbines (see the image to the upper left), which now still contribute to the safety of the nuclear station, because they ensure that electricity will always be available locally even in the case of a regional power failure. This made it unnecessary for the nuclear operators to invest in emergency diesel generators. The Isar plant was originally designed for one boiling water reactor only, for which a less powerful and very compact type of cooling towers were built (lower left, to the right of the reactor building); these were used only when the Isar’s water flow was insufficient. The high-rise cooling tower that can be seen across much of Bavaria was constructed only when a further reactor, of the pressurized water type, was added later on (right). The boiling water reactor was shut down immediately after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. The pressurized water reactor is supposedly still in operation, but apparently not on the day of my visit, judging by the lack of “smoke” (water vapour) from the cooling tower.

The Grafenrheinfeld NPP is also in Bavaria, but further north, in Lower Franconia, where the inhabitants usually don’t think of themselves as “Bavarians”. This cultural divide largely coincides with the physical drainage divide between the Rhine and the Danube river basins. Hence this nuclear station, which is no longer in operation (having been shut down in 2015), is situated not in the Danube basin, but on the Main, the Rhine’s most important tributary. When construction started in 1974 the Main was already a suitable river for cooling water supplies. This was because Germany had invested enormously in the 1950s and 1960s in making the Main navigable all the way up to Bamberg, taming the river and regularizing its water flow with the help of no fewer than 34 weirs and locks. The river is now part of a system that interconnects the Rhine and Danube river basins, the centrepiece of which is the Rhein-Main-Danube Canal.

A month later I returned to Germany. I first spent a few days at the German Federal Archives in Koblenz, which turned out to be a treasure trove for nuclear-historical research. I then went up (or rather down) to northern Germany and the Lower Elbe region. There I went to see how the Stade, Brokdorf and Brunsbüttel nuclear power plants (of which only Brokdorf is still in operation, but only until the end of this year) were integrated into this North Sea estuary. In contrast to the plants erected along the Danube, Isar and Main further south, the main challenge here seemed to be flood (rather than water scarcity) management. The Lower Elbe region is historically very much a marshland and all nuclear – indeed, all industrial – projects are dependent on a reliable drainage infrastructure. Like in the Netherlands, that infrastructure is critically dependent on large pumps for lifting water, in this case into the Elbe (see the image below, far left). The nuclear stations along the Lower Elbe also made use of a pre-nuclear infrastructure of earthen dikes, which are typically 5 meters tall (upper and lower right). These have always formed the centerpiece of nuclear flood protection and hence they can be regarded as components in the nuclear safety system. However, after the 1999 flooding of the Blayais NPP in France, a plant that is located in an estuary very similar to that of the Elbe, German regulatory authorities started looking into the deeper history of flooding events in the North Sea and how new such events might potentially cause havoc to the Lower Elbe NPPs: would they be able to cope with an event on a par with the famous Storegga slide, which is believed to have caused a huge tsunami throughout the North Sea region back in 6200 BC?

Isar Nuclear Power Plant 2021, by Per Högselius

In early 2022 I will publish an article in Technology & Culture which discusses, in further depth, some of the above-mentioned issues relating to nuclearized landscapes, water scarcity management, flood protection, the complex interplay between nuclear and non-nuclear hydraulic construction. Have a look in our list of publications.


Workshop “Climate challenges and the arts: urban time scales, inclusion and future flexibility” @Färgfabriken

​How can European cities prepare for climate challenges ahead? In what ways can co-creative processes between art, science and engineering contribute to novel solutions? These are some questions discussed at the workshop organized in the context of the H2020 initiative “SOS Climate waterfront” aiming at exchange between European cities on urban climate challenges and crafting strategies for future actions. 

Text and Photo: Katarina Larsen, researcher

The workshop included presentations with experiences from Portugal and Sweden on nature-based solutions and green buffer zones in response to climate changes and risks of flooding.

The workshop participants were invited to join a digital trip along the Portuguese coast with Maria Rita Pais (Universidade Lusófona, Portugal) visiting historical sites of bunker defense, now providing a green area stretching along the coast. Lina Suleiman (KTH) presented experiences from nature-based solutions in Årsta as a strategy for moderating the impacts of climate change in Stockholm. The workshop participants also discussed climate change and the arts, urban climate challenges , “seeking solutions for whom”, flexibility and diversity in urban climate solutions. See workshop introduction below.

Workshop introduction

Climate challenges and the arts: urban time scales, inclusion and future flexibility

Urban strategies for managing storm water and crafting robust solutions to cope with future climate challenges are receiving renewed attention with events of heavy rainfall and costly effects from flooding we have seen in Sweden and internationally in the past years.

With this workshop, we look into some of these challenges and also discuss dilemmas with some proposed solutions. These solutions are themselves raising new questions about how to communicate alternative solutions and “solutions for whom” (how can solutions be communicated to citizens, experts, and policymakers?), time scales (what are the time perspective we apply for climate robust solutions in renewal of cities?), inclusion/diversity (how can a diverse set of voices be heard when crafting new solutions?) and flexibility (how can we build solutions that are flexible enough to create room for maneuver needed in the future?) for urban areas when facing new – and sometimes – unexpected climate challenges.

In this hybrid-workshop, the local Stockholm partners (KTH, Intercult) participated on site from Färgfabriken while colleagues from Portugal, Greece, Italy, Turkey, The Netherlands and Poland attended via link. Presentations by colleagues at KTH included Katarina Larsen, Div. History of Science, Technology and Environment (organizer) and Lina Suleiman, Div. Urban and Regional Studies. The event was co-organized with the art institution Färgfabriken in Stockholm and also included an introduction to the work carried out in collaboration between researchers and artists in the exhibition Symbiosis at Färgfabriken, carried out by the project NATURE.

Plans for 2022 in H2020-initiative SOS Climate Waterfront:

During next year there are some planned exchange activities with Greece (Thessaloniki, January), Italy (Rome, March) and a workshop in end of May/June hosted by KTH in Stockholm.

If you are interested to know more about these activities, contact the organizers Katarina Larsen or Lina Suleiman.

For more info on the H2020 initiative, SOS Climate Waterfront, see

Katarina Larsen

Katarina Larsen


”Två fel gör inte ett rätt” – How China is taken as an argument to not act for the climate

Nina Wormbs, Professor of History of Technology at the division, has published an article relevant in the context of the recent COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in the daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter on 17 November 2021. In the following we will present a short summary of its main points in English, while you can read the original in full length and in Swedish here.

Profilbild av Nina Cyrén Wormbs


When climate issues are discussed in Sweden, China is often taken as a comparison. In fact, people use China as an argument to not act in regard to climate change.

During the recent COP26 summit in Glasgow, the focus was also on China, since the country is highly invested in coal both at home and abroad. It is obvious that we need to work with China together, since its emissions are enormous. Despite this, China has recently undertaken steps towards a sustainable society.

In particular, it has become normal to point to China in a debate, if one does not want to engage with those questions the current climate crisis is bringing up. This can include coal power plants but also a justification for flying to Mallorca or Thailand for fun, because Chinese tourists could be seen in Gamla Stan. In order for this practice not to spread further, we have to understand why those arguments are not valid and what they result in.

First, it makes no sense to motivate one’s own harm-doing by arguing that someone else would produce even more harm.

Secondly, the comparison with China’s emissions are an eternal but nevertheless problematic way of relativising one’s own influence. Because you are always able to find someone who produces more emissions than yourself. More than Sweden. More than Europe. Of course it is important how much we emit as humanity, but the China-argument suggests that there would be some form of give- and take, like as if life would be a zero-sum-game. Instead, it is the opposite: every ton of CO2 counts.

Additionally, the China-argument points to an understanding, in which one does not have to do a tiny bit of right, while someone else does so much wrong. Maybe this argument is spreading, because more and more people repeat it. People in Sweden have limited knowledge of China. China is bigger, has more people, and all of them are striving towards a better life. That’s why it might be easy to point to China, in order to relativise one’s own responsibility.

Thirdly, China is often portrayed as an enemy in Swedish media. It can therefore be seen as a nation different from Sweden, being imagined like the negative “other”.

Why are the USA never mentioned in this context, despite their higher historical and per-capita-emissions (IPCC and Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are also hardly ever named, even though they are leading the per-capita-emissions statistics.

If one looks into the emissions of production chains of consumer goods, of which a lot are produced in China but used somewhere else like in Sweden, the territorial basis for emission-calculations seems off.

Furthermore, within most individual nations the gap between rich and poor gets bigger, which means that the individual emissions are not what the average suggests, but rather high if you are rich, or low if you are poor. Therefore, it would be a great idea to change the focus from nations to individuals, like Chancel and Piketty suggested in 2015.  This makes even more sense, since the richest 10% of the world’s population accounted for 50% of emissions since 1990. Those 10% can be found in every country, but they are not evenly distributed. More so, since 40% of those live in the USA, while only 10% live in China. It might be a cold shower for a Swedish discussant that every Swede with a monthly income of over 27,500 SEK belongs to this group.

This is not being written to support China’s climate policies. Instead, it is to show that China is not relevant if one wants to discuss a domestic climate action plan, as the relationship between being rich and producing lots of emissions is evident – and Sweden is one of the richest countries on earth.

Open Access to Knowledge, Fear, and Conscience: Reasons to Stop Flying Because of Climate Change

Division professor Nina Wormbs researches along with Maria Wolrath Söderberg from Södertörn University, in the project Understanding justification of climate change nonaction. The project runs 2019-2021 and is financed by The Swedish foundation for humanities and social sciences, Riksbankens Jubileumsfond. This June Nina and Marie published the article Knowledge, Fear, and Conscience: Reasons to Stop Flying Because of Climate Change in Urban Planning. Find the link to full text and read the abstract below.

Photo by Marcus Zymmer on Unsplash

Link to Publishers full text.

Link to Understanding justification of climate change nonaction project page 


Much research on the societal consequences of climate change has focused on inaction, seeking to explain why societies and individuals do not change according to experts’ recommendations. In this qualitative study, we instead consider people who have changed their behaviour for the sake of the climate: They have stopped travelling by air. We first asked them to elaborate their rationales for the behaviour change. Then, using topos theory to find thought structures, we analysed their 673 open-text answers. Several themes emerged, which together can be regarded as a process of change. Increased knowledge, primarily narrated as a process by which latent knowledge was transformed into insight, through experience or emotional distress, was important. Contrary to certain claims in the literature, fear stimulated change of behaviour for many in this group. Climate change was framed as a moral issue, requiring acts of conscience. Children were invoked as educators and moral guides. Role models and a supportive social context played an important part. Alternatives to flying were brought forward as a motive to refrain from flying. Only a few mentioned shame as momentous. Instead, stopping travelling by air invoked a feeling of agency and responsibility, and could also result in a positive sensation.

Keywords:  arguments; children; climate change; flight shame; inner deliberation; knowledge-action gap; stop flying; topos
Published:   9 June 2021

Where do we publish?

As a division, we publish a lot in many different outlets. Klara Müller, Linus Salö and Sverker Sörlin have compiled the following discussion of our publication pattern in our last Biennial report, which you can find here.

Trends in Publishing

The following section is dedicated to an analysis of the Division’s publication patterns and is based on information collected from Digitala Vetenskapliga Arkivet, DiVA. The information in DiVA is uploaded by the researchers themselves. “Scientific publications”, as defined here, are publications registered in DiVA as “refereed” or “other academic”. The category does not include the content-type “other (popular science, discussion, etc.)”. For this year’s report, we have also excluded the subcategories “oral presentation only”, “oral presentation with published abstract”, and posters.

Thus defined, the output of scientific publications in 2019 and 2020 combined is 212. The two dominant publication types are article in journal (102) and chapter in book (61). Together, these two publication types amount to 77 % of all scientific publications. The remaining publication types consist of book reviews (14) and books (9) along with doctoral theses (4), reports (7) and edited collections (8).

Why should we analyze publication data?
Scholars from a wide range of subjects have criticized the usage of metrics to evaluate research, and this critique has been particularly forceful from scholars active in humanities disciplines. We hope that by compiling publication data from DiVA, we can identify patterns that would not be possible to determine otherwise. This analysis acknowledges certain aspects of the Division’s publication output mediated through visualizations, numbers and charts. We can use the data to identify trends, strengths and weaknesses in publication patterns. But it is, of course, only possible to reflect certain aspects of what the members of the Division have been working on the last couple of years. It also brings up important questions about what we should measure, what this type of analysis of this type of data can tell us, and what research output we should focus on. How much can the Division publish, while maintaining high-quality publications? What is high-quality research, and what can we do to produce that? This analysis will not answer these broad questions, but might instead provoke new insights on what we can use metrics for.

Overall trends 2010 – 2020
Overall, the Division’s publications have seen a stable increase during the last decade. The most prominent category is refereed journal articles, while the output of the other categories (refereed book chapters, books, dissertations, other academic publication types) have been fairly stable. To put this in context, the Division’s research output has grown in a period when such output has in a general decreased in Sweden. According to the latest UKÄ report (February 2021), total publications dropped by 17 %, and in Humanities and Art the decrease has been no less than 23 %. The total number of peer-reviewed articles in the latter category was 1164 in Sweden during 2020.

The 2017 – 2018 Division report identified a salient rise in peer-reviewed publications and publications published in English. These trends are persisting. In 2010, the largest content type was “other”, followed by “other academic” and “refereed”. A decade later, in 2020, the proportions were reversed, with refereed publications being the most numerous and the proportionally largest content type.

Publishing languages
Because Swedish is by far the most common language used in output categorized as “other”, the relative share of Swedish-language publications in the Division has dropped from 55 % in 2010 to 39 % in 2020 when all content types are considered. It follows that this tendency is even stronger when only scientific publications are examined. In 2010, a third of the scientific publications were published in Swedish; in 2020, we are down to a fifth. That said, the trend does not point to a continuous decrease in Swedish-language scientific publications.

Refereed journals 2019 – 2020
The larger the word, the more frequent it is in the titles of the refereed journals that members of the Division have been publishing in over the last two years. This gives a hint of the areas of interest of members of the Division.

During the past two years, members of the Division have been publishing in the following outlets:

Peer-reviewed journals
• Ab Imperio: Theory and History of Nationalities and Nationalism in the Post-Soviet Realm
• Ambio: A Journal of Environment and Society
• Annals of the American Association of Geographers
• Body & Society
• Cahiers du Monde Russe
• Cogent Arts and Humanities
• Current Anthropology
• Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability
• Ecocene: Cappadocia Journal of Environmental Humanities
• Ecology & Society
• Ecology and Evolution
• Energy Policy
• Energy Research & Social Science
• Environment and History
• Environmental History
• Environmental humanities
• Environmental Justice
• Environmental Science and Policy
• Ėtnograficheskoe Obozrenie
• Fennia: International Journal of Geography
• Fish and Fisheries
• Frontiers in Energy Research
• Geographical Journal
• Global Environment
• Green Letters: Studies in Ecocriticism
• H-Environment Roundtable Reviews
• Historiallinen Aikakauskirja [Historical Journal]
• History and Anthropology
• Humanities
• Industry & Higher Education
• International Journal of Urban and Regional Research
• Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory
• J ournal of Environmental Policy & Planning
• Journal of Historical Geography
• Journal of Northern Studies
• Journal of Transport History
• Land Use Policy
• Landscape and Urban Planning
• Landscape Research
• Language in Society
• Leonardo Music Journal
• Media Theory
• Minerva: A Review of Science, Learning and Policy
• Mobilities Journal
• Multilingua: Journal of Cross-cultural and Interlanguage Communication
• Nature
• Nature Climate Change
• Niin & Näin: filosofinen aikakauslehti
• NTM: International Journal of History and Ethics of Natural Sciences, Technology and Medicine
• Polar Geography
• Polar Record
• Popular Communication
• Progress in Planning
• Public History Weekly
• Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities
• Scandinavian Economic History Review
• Scandinavian Journal of History
• Scientia Canadiensis: Canadian Journal of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine
• Sibirskie Istoricheskie Issledovaniia
• Sport in Society: Cultures, Media, Politics, Commerce
• Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
• Sustainability
• Sustainability Science
• Technology and Culture
• Technology in Society
• Tertiary Education and Management
• The Extractive Industries and Society
• Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis
• Trace: Journal of Writing, Media, Ecology
• Turkish Studies
• Urban Geography
• WIREs [Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews] Water
Books with the following publishing houses:
• KK-stiftelsen (Stockholm)
• Routledge (3)
• Natur & Kultur (Stockholm)
• (Copenhagen)
• Ellerströms förlag (Lund, SE)
• Campus Verlag (Frankfurt)
• Bokförlaget Atlas (Stockholm)
• MIT Press (Cambridge, MA)
Chapters in books with the following publishing houses:
• Aalto ARTS Books (Helsinki) (2)
• Arche Press (Gothenburg)
• Arkiv förlag & tidskrift (Lund) (3)
• Art and Theory Publishing (Stockholm)
• Bentham eBooks
• De Gruyter (Berlin)
• Deutsches Museum Verlag (Munich)
• Dialogos Förlag (Stockholm) (2)
• Föreningen för folkbildningsforskning (Stockholm)
• Gnasso Editore (Aversa, IT)
• John Wiley & Sons
• Jovis Verlag GmbH (Berlin)
• Kungl. Ingenjörsvetenskap-sakademien (Stockholm) (3)
• MIT Press (3)
• Natur & Kultur (Stockholm)
• Nordiska museets förlag (Stockholm) (3)
• Open Book Publishers (Cambridge, UK) (5)
• Open Humanities Press (London)
• Palgrave Macmillan (4)
• PM edizioni (Varazze, IT)
• Polaris (Stockholm)
• Regeringskansliet (Stockholm)
• Routledge (22)
• Sage Publications (Los Angeles & London)
• SISU Idrottsböcker (Stockholm)
• Springer Nature (2)
• Tartu University Press (Tartu, FI)
• Taylor & Francis (7)
• The University of Alabama Press

Keywords corroborate the impression from journal titles that environment is a cross cutting theme in much of the Division’s research. The strong social concern is also visible (words such as political, justice, human, labour), along with an interest in urban issues, infrastructures, and energy in various forms. Science and technology also loom large as do gender/feminist, heritage, climate, and the Anthropocene. A significant category is “earth objects” such as sea, earth, air, water. As for geographical spread many regions appear, from the Philippines to the Baltic, but Sweden and Polar/Arctic are the most frequent ones, reflecting major research efforts in these areas. Our two special hubs are reflected in a strong presence of “Environmental Humanities”, and “Posthumanities”.

Collaboration in academic publishing is a strong trend. On page 35 we have listed the Division’s unique collaboration partners during 2019 and 2020, through co-authorships registered in DiVA. It is possible to identify certain clusters – outside of Sweden, universities in the US and the UK are frequent collaboration partners in our publishing. There are also many collaboration partners in the north – Norway, Iceland, Russia, Canada and Finland.

The rise of our co-authorships reflects, above all, continued internationalization, both of research collaboration and research content. This is in line with a general trend in humanities research in Sweden for more than a decade. According to a report from the research council VR (The Research Barometer 2019, p. 62), the share of Arts and Humanities publications co-authored internationally grew from 18 to 30 % from 2007 to 2017. As the figure illustrates the Division has moved in the same direction, only somewhat earlier and in a more pronounced way. In 2020 such publications made up around 50 % of our total publications (taking into account that a small handfulof the co-authorships are within Sweden). Part of the explanation is probably the relatively high proportion of non-Swedes among our researchers, but our collaboration networks are also important.

Publishing for other audiences
The following category of publications is not included in the analysis of scientific publications, since it is based on what is defined as “other (popular science, discussion, etc.)” in DiVA. This review was made to get a better understanding of how the Division’s publishing engages with audiences outside academia. In 2019 and 2020, members of the Division’s most frequent “non-scientific” publications, were in the newspapers Dagens Nyheter (16) and Svenska Dagbladet (9). The web-based magazine Curie, issued by the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet), has also been a dominant outlet for non-scientific publications.
As the word cloud indicates, with newspapers as the dominant outlet, “article in journal” is the most common outlet in the category “other”, with 54 posts. But it is not the only one. There are also “chapter in book” (6) and, again, “other” (16). In this category, we find a mixture of blog posts and other online discussion outlets.
The category “other” has been fairly stable the last decade, except for a dip in 2013 and a rise in 2020. The stability indicates that members of the Division have not published less in non-peer-reviewed outlets, for example, newspapers, due to the rise in refereed articles and book chapters. We can also identify a notable rise in publications in the category “other” during 2020. A possible explanation of this rise in publications during 2020 might be the Covid-19 pandemic and the need for researchers to engage in public debates, which members of the Division have done with at least 10 texts reflecting on the crisis.

In the category “other”, Swedish is the dominant language with 61 publications, followed by English with 10 publications. This can be compared to the Division’s scientific publications, where English has been the dominant language of use since 2006.

Ten Stockholm Archipelago Lectures

The Stockholm Archipelago Lectures are part of the public activities of the KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory and have been since 2012. It was initiated as an event that marks the presence of the EHL at the KTH Campus. This Monday we look forward to our 10th lecture by looking back in time, finishing off with the announcement of this year’s keynote speaker.

In September 2012 the historian and geographer David Lowenthal visited the Division to give a series of talks. They were entitled the Archipelago Lectures, referring in part to the Stockholm Archipelago, but also to David’s career long professional and personal interest in islands, in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, in the Isle of Man where he had a summer house, and elsewhere. (From: Sverker Sörlin in “Defining Humanities – Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment, KTHReport 2017-2018)

The Archipelago lecture was the first major public event of the KTH Environmental Humanities Lab and has become an annual institution every fall. In the early years the lectures were held at the KTH Campus, but for the 2018 lecture with Amitav Gosh on “The Great Uprooting: Migration and Movement in the Age of Climate Change” we moved to central Stockholm and Kulturhuset Stadsteatern. The event was announced in one of Sweden’s largest morning papers, Dagens Nyheter, and attracted our biggest audience so far. A little over 100 people came to listen to Amitav Gosh.

In 2019 the Archipelago Lecture was organized in collaboration with the workers educational associations ABF and the independent opinion group Arenagruppen. “What should socialism mean in the 21st century? An ecofeminist view” with Nancy Fraiser attracted over 200 people, who came to ABF to listen. The lecture was filmed and also streamed online for the first time without us knowing that this would soon be our new normal. Former EHL researcher Roberta Biasillo writes in the Biennial report “Integrative Humanities from the years 2019 in and 2020” Nancy Fraser “engaged with the audience and with us well beyond the time of the talk – we all sat and stood together, we ate next to each other and shook our hands. One year later, on 25 November 2020, we found ourselves online and it was no coincidence that the talk was on ideas and practices of care, repair, and restitution as ways to ensure just living conditions on Earth.”

In the first year of the pandemic we went online and welcomed Achille Mbembe as our Archipelago keynote speaker. From his home in South Africa he gave the lecture “Reflections on Planetary Habitability”. This became one of the EHL’s and the Division’s most visited single events so far, with over 500 people streaming it in real time.

This year we are happy to announce Kathryn Yusoff as our keynote speaker. Kathryn is a professor of inhuman geography at Queen Mary University of London. She is the author of the acclaimed book “A billion black anthropocenes or none“. So, mark your calendars and check your connection – because on December 1 at 4.30 PM CET we are ready to go online again for the next Archipelago lecture.


Lectures from the past

September 9, 2012
“Reflections on the Environmental Humanities”
David Lowenthal, Professor Emeritus of Geography, University College London

September 11, 2013
“The Meltdown of a High Arctic Hunting Community”
Kirsten Hastrup, Professor of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen

October 9, 2014
“Environmental Racism as State-Sanctioned Violence”
Laura Pulido, Professor of American Studies and EthnicityUniversity of Southern California

November 2, 2015
“The humanities and global change research: relationships necessary, absent and possible”
Noel Castree, Professor of Geography, University of Manchester, England, and the University of Wollongong, Australia

October 27, 2016
“AlterLife in the Aftermath of Industrial Chemicals”
Michelle Murphy, Professor of History and Women and Gender Studies, University of Toronto

October 5, 2017
“Connecting Dots in Toms River and Beyond”
Dan Fagin, award-winning author, and Professor of science journalism,  New York University

September 26, 2018
“The Great Uprooting: Migration and Movement in the Age of Climate Change”
Amitav Ghosh, award-winning writer of historical fiction and non-fiction

October 7, 2019
“What should socialism mean in the 21st century? An ecofeminist view”
Nancy Fraiser, Professor, The New School for Social Research, New York

November 25, 2020
“Reflections on Planetary Habitability”
Achille Mbembe, Professor in History and Politics, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg





Postdoc in Crisis (or not?)

By Marta Musso and Lina Rahm, first published in our division’s Biennial Report 2019-2020 “Integrative Humanities”

During the summer of 2020, the journal Nature conducted a study on how the pandemic had affected postdocs’ careers as well as their well-being. Six out of ten stated that the pandemic had worsened their career opportunities, and more than half stated that they had experienced work-related anxiety and worry. The title of the article that presented the study was accordingly Postdocs in crisis.

One could say that a crisis is an event where the normal order of processes and institutions can no longer cope with new external conditions. The Coronavirus has revealed to us how we, as humans, are inevitably interlinked to a more-than-human world, a world which, in many ways, is also incalculable and outside the comfort zone of established knowledge (see the first-hand experience of dealing with the Coronavirus by Division Professor Marco Armiero, at this link). Further, it seems like the Covid crisis has been more conspicuously framed as a crisis of death, mourning and suffering, than, for example the so-called migrant crisis in 2019, where institutional problems were more highlighted (instead of the death, mourning and suffering connected to that). How societal phenomena are framed thus seems to depend on who is ‘touched by’ its consequences and how. As Marxist art critic J.J. Charlesworth tweeted: “There was never any lockdown. There were just middle-class people hiding while working-class people brought them things.”

So, even though we have been affected and concerned by the pandemic in many ways, we must also be ‘read’ with our privileges in mind. We could, to a large extent, avoid the worst rampages of the virus, and we were fortunate to work in a department that did its utmost to accommodate the new conditions of the distance mode. By creating a convivial and participatory atmosphere – through virtual APT meetings, higher seminars, helpful “shut-up-and-write” workshops, computer-mediated “semla celebration fika” (and physical stroll-meetings with social distancing) – we have been spurred to continue to take part of the research environment in very concrete ways.

If one important element for researchers has emerged from this pandemic, and especially for researchers using historical documents (NB: it’s not only historians!!), it is the importance of accessing archives in the digital sphere. Digitisation processes have been discussed and prepared for by archivists and institutions for at least the past 20 years, since the World Wide Web started to spread. Most archives, at least from rich countries, have opened a web presence of some sort; many are proceeding fast towards the complete digitisation of their collections, in order to allow researchers to access their documents 24/7, anywhere in the world. Others have at least a web presence where it is possible to search their catalogues through search engines, making archival research as fast and immediate as ever, usually from national-level portals, or hosted by the national archives of their country. International-level portals aggregating archival institutions from many different countries have also started to emerge (think of Europeana, Archives Portal Europe, or Internet Archive), institutions with very ambitious goals of becoming parallel entities to Google, where it is possible to search for all pre-digital cultural production as well. Before the pandemic, these projects never gathered too much attention. Except for archivists actively campaigning for digital access, digital archives were still a niche subject. Some professionals even boycotted them out of fear of making the physical institutions obsolete; researchers still traditionally work by organising their research around the trip to the archive; only a handful of institutions allow requests of digitisation on demand – something that now, with the pandemics, professional archive-goers have discovered the hard way. With institutions closed, billions of documents and related researches are on hold; conversely, collections that are available online are flourishing, providing a much-needed lifeline to researchers who are sometimes working on tight deadlines, and whose jobs expire when the funds expire, whether or not the research was carried out.

On a personal level, our post-doc research projects can still continue thanks to something that now feels like fantastic planning skills, but that really was just a stroke of luck. During previous archive trips, both of us photographed and digitised (“for personal use”) an amazing quantity of documents, which was too much for a single research task, but which are now being used for our current studies. The decision of taking thousands of photographs during the archive trips was not due to the idea that there might one day be a pandemic: indeed, before Coronavirus, our idea of a pandemic resembled a thrilling zombie apocalypse; never had the idea of “staying at home” and “social distancing” crossed our minds. The rationale behind it was to make the best use of the money and time spent on trips to very distant institutions, and because of the desire to check every single piece of a folder, while allowing for time, later on, to view and review as many papers available in the archive as possible.

Now that we cannot go to the physical archives, our own digital memories of the archives became the new archives that we could inhabit. Hopefully, the pandemic has helped to raise awareness of the importance of digitisation as a fundamental aspect of accessing our heritage, and something complementary, not in opposition, to archives and museum institutions.

Our Image of the Savannah Reveals who we are

In the think piece, “Our image of the savannah reveals who we are” (Vår bild av savannen avslöjar vilka vi är), doctoral student Erik Isberg reflects on how our image of the early people on the savannah has change over the centuries and how it is characterized by its time. The text originally was published in Swedish for Below is a translated, shorted version.

Full text with references: Vår bild av savannen avslöjar vilka vi är

Our image of the savannah reveals who we are

Erik Isberg

Already 60 years before Christ, the Roman poet Lucretius speculated whether the first humans were of stronger stuff than the spoiled civilized equivalent, and in the 18th century, the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau expressed a similar idea, contrasting an idealized image of a harmonious state of nature against a corrupt contemporary. However, after World War II, theories about the origin of humankind gained new weight: they were to be substantiated scientifically rather than philosophically.

In the book “Creatures of Cain: The Hunt for Human Nature in Cold War America”, the historian of ideas Erika Lorraine Milam writes a kind of savannah’s cultural history from the end of World War II.

The popular science stories of the 1950s about the origins of humanity emphasized cooperation, everyone’s common roots and the ability to communicate as an essential human trait. They were often cheered on – intellectually and financially – by Huxley’s Unesco. However, as the dream of a harmonious world began to fall and the balance of the cold war terror took over, the mood on the savannah also changed.

60’s pay attention to man’s inherent aggressiveness. A new generation of popular science writers highlighted characteristics such as violence and dominance as defining for the first humans. This inherent aggression had dictated the conditions of existence on the savannah, where those who wanted to survive had to establish a violent capital.

This savannah did not become particularly long-lived. Milam places the end of the idea of ​​The Killer Ape, the dominant male as ruler of the savannah, to the 1980s. Who stepped in and took his place? No one, she answers. “When violence and prejudice became personal,” Milam writes, “biological theories of aggression and human nature became inadequate.” Collective explanatory models lost status and when the Cold War regime began to loosen up, the terrorist balance of our ancestors disappeared. Time had run out from the savannah, free individuals who left the stone axes in the grass and did not want to feel any common prehistory replaced The Killer Ape.

Nevertheless, the cultural history of the savannah does not end here after all. We find it everywhere at the bookstores’ top lists, and in TV productions and radio shows, it is an obvious foundation. Rather than disappearing, the savannah just seems to have changed shape. The prehistory that appears in the health literature appears as a continuation of the ideas that Milam describes in her book, but where the individual is more interesting than the common. Today we do not refer to our ancestors in matters of violence and prejudice, instead they are used to answer questions about how to live a better life. In this way, the savannah retains its moral implications, but not for society at large, but for the individual. Huxley’s vision of society has been replaced by self-optimization.

Swedish epidemiologist Anders Wallensten, author of the book The health mystery (Hälsogåtan: evolution, forskning och 48 konkreta råd, Bonnier Fakta, 2020), presents a savannah where the community is larger and the group’s cohesion is crucial for its continued survival. However, the goal of the community is not, as was the case in the utopian descriptions of the 1950s, a new society, but how individuals, through the support of the community, are to create a good life. Cooperation and community do not appear as goals in themselves, but as means for the individual to realize himself. In addition, the individual’s responsibility seems almost absolute.

Since Julian Huxley stood on the steps in Paris, the inhabitants of the savannah have repeatedly changed shape, and the popular science writers of the future will probably let the savannah be populated by additional new inhabitants, where the props remain but the ensemble is replaced. Perhaps the self-optimizing savannah people will have to make sacrifices for each other when pandemics and climate change hit their contemporary counterparts. Or something completely different happens. Perhaps the most interesting thing is not what answers the savannah can give us, but what questions we think it can answer.

Text: Erik Isberg, doctoral student in the project SPHERE

An Environmental History of Italian Migrations

Former colleagues at our division Roberta Biasillo and Daniele Valisena have written together with Claudio de Majo a new article in Modern Italy. The article with the title Environments of Italianness: for an environmental history of Italian migrations” is part of a special issue edited also by the three of them about the concepts of italianness, environment, and socio-natures.

Check out this great piece, which might lead to a new trend in environmental history!


Italian mobility played a fundamental part in the history of the peninsula, since it was a global phenomenon reaching every continent except Daniele ValisenaAntarctica. The Italian diaspora counted over 26 million expatriates who left the country between 1876 and 1976 and, to date, Italy remains one of the states that has contributed the most to the Great European Migration. Although impressive, these figures do not take into account pre-unitary Italian mobilities or Italian settlements in colonial territories. By adopting the perspective of environmental history of migration, this collection of essays allows us to consider various contextually embedded migratory environments, creating a means to find common constitutive features that allow us to explore and identify Italianness. Specifically, in this special issue, we intend to investigate how Italians transformed remote foreign environments in resemblances of their distant faraway homeland, their paesi, as well as used them as a means of materially re-imagining landscapes of Italianness. In return, their collective and individual identities were transformed by the new surroundings.

BIASILLO, Roberta • European University InstituteAbstract in Italian:

Le forme di mobilità degli italiani rappresentano un aspetto fondamentale della storia della penisola, ma non solo, poiché le comunità italiane hanno raggiunto tutti i continenti, fatta eccezione per l’Antartico. Nel periodo tra il 1876 e il 1976, la ‘diaspora italiana’ ha coinvolto più di 26 milioni di persone, facendo dell’Italia uno degli stati che più ha contribuito al fenomeno della Grande Emigrazione europea. A questi dati bisogna altresì aggiungere quelli relativi alle mobilità preunitarie e a quelle verso le colonie, argomenti inclusi tra i saggi qui raccolti. Adottando pertanto la prospettiva della storia ambientale delle migrazioni e muovendo dalle ricerche presentate nei singoli saggi, i curatori propongono una sintesi delle caratteristiche socio-ambientali che hanno influenzato e caratterizzato l’emergere di identità italiane all’estero, ovvero forme di italianità. Gli articoli contenuti in questo numero monografico illustrano come italiani e italiane abbiano trasformato e utilizzato gli ambienti naturali stranieri per ricostruire le proprie piccole patrie, i loro paesi. Allo stesso tempo, questi nuovi paesaggi dell’italianità hanno contribuito a formare identità ibride, collettive e individuali.

Baltic Sea Water Talks on Utö

Utö, one of the major islands of the Stockholm archipelago, recently hosted the Baltic Sea Water Talks. David Nilsson, Associate Professor at our division and Director of the WaterCentre@KTH, has been a key participant of this conference. Many researchers, entrepreneurs, and environmentalists have joined to discuss how the island tackles the upcoming challenges of a changing Baltic Sea and ecosystem.

David has written the following report, which was first published on the WaterBlog@KTH on 29 September 2021.


On pikes and potatoes

On the island Utö in Stockholm’s southern archipelago they grow pikes and potatoes next to each other. You don’t believe me? Go see for yourself!

In the beginning of September I returned to this wonderful spot, along with some 50 academics, entrepreneurs, investors and environmentalists. The occasion that brought us here was the first Baltic Sea Water Talks; a meeting of diverse professionals in search of practical solutions for challenges in the Baltic Sea.

KTH researchers visiting Utö’s famous windmill

People on the island of Utö have always depended on what nature gives, in one way or the other. While this might be said for all of humanity, it is never more obvious than on an island at sea. Already from the 12th century, it was the iron ore on the island that brought prosperity. After the mining was abandoned in the 19th century, all the trees were cut down to supply timber to the growing city of Stockholm. But fish was plenty and by the early 1900s, there were some 70 fishing boats stationed on Utö. Now there is only one part-time fisherman left. Instead, the island has become a popular tourism destination thanks to its unique nature, its heritage and birdlife. Yet again, nature provides the basis for local livelihood. But how do we make life in the archipelago sustainable after centuries of predatory resource extraction?

This is where the pikes and the potatoes come in. Initiativ Utö, a local NGO and also the host of the WaterTalks, has started to build “pike factories”. In these constructed wetlands and estuaries they aim to both restore the fishing stock and reduce nutrient loads. Nutrients in the run-off and sediments are collected through mechanical and biological methods and the estuaries are breeding places for pike. The pikes restore some balance in the local marine ecosystems and attracts sports fishers. The recovered nutrient is used in local small-scale farming, and seems to be particularly good for potatoes.

Restoration work in the estuary

Currently, two research groups from KTH are actively doing research on the pike factory wetlands. A team led by Guna Rajarao Kuttuva looks into monitoring techniques and optimisation of the wetland. Another team led by Zeynep Cetecioglu Gurol is investigating the potential of phosporous “mining” from the estuary sediments, where valuable phosphorous could be extracted as a commercial product. Research and innovation like theirs moves us towards “closing the loop” for food production on a whole new scale. Could the polluted seas become a source for valuable and scarce nutrients? Can we move towards a balance with nature and stop exhausting nature’s resources one after the other?

Thomas Hjelm of Initiativ Utö talking to Zeynep Cetecioglu Gurol in the wetlands

And most importantly, what to do with the potatoes? For my part, I prefer the Swedish traditional dish “raggmunk”, a type of potato pancake. I can tell you that the Utö potatoes grown on sludge from the pike factory, are particularly well suited for raggmunk. Bon appétit!

Oooh those raggmunks!


10 Utö potatoes

3 eggs

2 dl flour

4 dl milk

1 teaspoon salt


Grate potatoes coarsely

Mix egg, flour, salt and milk and add grated potatoes

Form small “beefs” into saucepan and fry on medium-high, rich with butter

Serve with lingonberries

Le chef at work – grating away in the kitchen