For the next several months I’ll be living and working in Hyde Park, where I’m teaching a course on “Tracking Nature” as a guest lecturer at the University of Chicago, with the support of the folks at the Fishbein Center for the History of Science and Medicine. The course will trace the idea that nature is in motion through the recent history of the environmental sciences. Climate change and the biodiversity crisis are two clear targets, but other issues — “natural” disasters, for example — are also on the itinerary. Here’s the brief course description:
This course examines the history of efforts to keep track of nature as a moving object, while also critically examining both tracking as a mode of knowledge production and nature as an object of study and control. Drawing on scholarship in the history of science and environmental history, we will examine the history of efforts to understand forest growth and ecological succession, ocean currents and tides, earthquakes and tsunamis, species extinctions and invasions, population booms and crashes, disease epidemics, and climate change. All of these phenomena are evidence of the changeable nature of nature and all of them have, over the past several centuries, been the subject of intensive surveillance programs aimed at rendering nature legible, predictable, and manageable. What has driven the remarkable expansion of such programs? How have they reshaped human understandings of and power over nature? Who—and what—has won and lost as a result?