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Historical Epistemologies of Planetary Modelling

This event brings together historians of science, technology, and the environment for a discussion-oriented workshop focusing on the historical epistemology of planetary modelling. Organised by the Max Planck Institute for History of Science, together with the KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratorya nd with the help of the Spore Initiative Berlin.

Time: Wed 2023-06-07 16.00 - Fri 2023-06-09 17.30

Location: Berlin, Germany

Language: English

Participating: Adam Wickberg, Sabine Höhler, Erik Isberg, Sverker Sörlin

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The aim of this event is to interrogate how data and modelling came to dominate the understanding of the planetary crisis as well as to think critically about how power relations affect knowledge production about global environmental change. The workshop will explore the integrative potentials as well as the epistemic frictions between Earth system science and historical and archaeological complexity of the Anthropocene. At present, in spite of ever-increasing amounts of environmental data and improved modelling capabilities, agreed targets like the 1.5 C degree goal are declared dead halfway through the path to Agenda 2030. Why do ever-more detailed simulations and rich data not lead to better policy and a stronger societal response to modelled testimonies? How can historical understanding better inform the epistemology of Earth system science? And how can knowledge from Earth system science be better integrated into Anthropocene history?

The workshop will explore the impact and lack of impact of modelling, simulation, datafication, on society, model and data colonialism, knowledge, and the global environment, including energy demand forecasting, archaeological systems, climate and ocean modelling, as well as modelling of the lithosphere, and plannified models of sustainable futures. The workshop will feature a mix of speakers who will respond to how modelling and datafication emerged historically in the post-war era, and integrated into Earth System science, and attained its present epistemological status. Through these perspectives, we will also explore the historicity of modelling and data and how these methods have changed and continue to change the practice of history in the Anthropocene, asking fundamental epistemic questions about the power relations, agency, frictions and limitations, and the purpose of modelled and datafied environmental epistemologies.

Full Program

‘Divided Planet’ Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt, 1970

June 7

16.00–18.00 – Introductory event at the Spore Initiative, Hermannstraße 86, 12051 Berlin

An introduction to Spore by Marco Clausen, and a tour of the Xook k’iin exhibition which documents and artistically communicates a long-standing approach to weather prediction that Mayan people developed and maintained for hundreds of years. The term can be directly translated as ‘to read the Sun’ (cognates of day, date, and time). This will be followed by a guided discussion about other forms of weather prediction and control.

June 8, HEPM Day One

Workshop at MPIWG Berlin, Boltzmannstrasse 22, 14195

9.30 Arrival and coffee

10.00 Welcome by Jürgen Renn, MPIWG

Session 1. Planetary Control

Thomas Turnbull and Adam Wickberg
Introductory Remarks

Sverker Sörlin, KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory, Stockholm
Planetary Boundlessness: The Rise of the Planetary as a Category in Global Environmental Governance

Troy Vettesse, EUI Florence, and Drew Pendergrass, Harvard (online)
Salvaging the Anthropocene

12.00–13.00 Lunch at Harnack Haus

13.00–15.00 Session 2. From Concrete to Digital

Julia Sánchez Dorado, ICI Berlin
Exploration Through Concrete Earth Models

Etienne Benson, MPIWG
Modeling the Universal River: ‘Rational’ vs. ‘Empirical’ Methods in Fluvial Geomorphology

Emil Flatø, Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo
The Managerial Viewpoint

15.00–15.30 Coffee

15.30–17.30 Session 3. Target Systems

Sabine Höhler, KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory, Stockholm
Baseline Truths Beyond the Map: Global Environmental Change in the Bathymetric Model of the World’s Oceans

Christoph Rosol, MPIWG
Circulation. From the Hydrodynamic Model of a Mechanical Aether to the Mechanist Model of an Hydrodynamic Atmosphere (Mind Vortex Intended!)

Johan Gärdebo, History & Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge
Baltic Battleground: Geopolitics of Swedish Environmental Data, 1975–1995

Workshop dinner at Restaurant Luise, Königin-Luise-Straße 40, Dahlem.

June 9, HEPM Day Two

9.30–10.00 Coffee

10.00–12.00 Session 1. Whose Models?

Aisha Kadiri, Political Theory, École Normale Supériure, Paris
Modelling the Plantationocene

Orit Halpern, TU Dresden
Planetary Intelligence

Bernard Dionysius Geoghegan, Kings College London
WGS 84 and the Forensic Perspective of Digital Media Infrastructures

12.00–13.00 Lunch at Harnack Haus

13.00–15.00 Session 2. Energy and Information

Matteo Pasquinelli, Department of Media Philosophy, University of Arts and Design Karlsruhe
The Labour of Energy and Information: Notes for a Historical Metrology of the Anthropocene

Christoph Engemann, Virtual Humanities Lab – Ruhr-University Bochum
Petroleum Reservoir Simulations: Imaging and Imagining the Subsurface

Leah Aronowsky, History of Science, Columbia
The Energy Supply Planning Model, the End of Oil, and the Cold War-Era Transition to Coal

15.00–15.30 Coffee

15.30–17.30 Session 3. Deriving Planetary Data

Erik Ljungberg, Environmental Humanities Laboratory, Stockholm
Sensing Forests From Space: Different Modeling Cultures in pan-European Forest Monitoring

Dania Achermann, Interdisciplinary Centre for Science and Technology Studies, University of Wuppertal, Germany
Climate Modelling and Ice Core Science: The Emergence of Two New Fields in the Twentieth Century

Erik Isberg, Environmental Humanities Laboratory, Stockholm
Synchronizing the Paleoclimate: Oceanic Pasts and Modelled Futures in the CLIMAP Project (1971–1982)

*** End of workshop