Imperial Weather: Meteorology and the Making of Twentieth Century Colonialism

In this British Academy-funded project 3S lecturer Martin Mahony is investigating the intersections of science, empire and climate in order to understand how practices of predicting and observing the weather were shaped by the context of British colonialism.

map-from-watts-1949

Meteorology as infrastructure. From Watts, The equatorial convergence lines of the Malayan-East Indies area. Malayan Meteorological Service, 1949.

Relationships between science and empire have been well documented in a burgeoning field concerned with the histories and geographies of colonial science. We know a great deal, for example, about how imperial mobility stimulated and shaped the emergence of disciplines like botany, anthropology, geography and cartography, and about how such fields functioned as tools of empire, facilitating the navigation and comprehension of new oceanic and terrestrial worlds.

But empires were not just about the horizontal projection of power. They also had a vertical dimension, articulated for example through a concern for the effects of tropical climates on human health, race and productivity, or through engagements with the atmosphere as a realm of imperial connectivity and military power. This project asks how atmospheric knowledge was pursued, standardized, circulated and put to work across the British Empire as the science of meteorology underwent a transition from the ad hoc compilation of ‘amateur’ observations to an institutionalized and professionalized science of colonial government. In so doing, it will speak to much wider questions about the relationships between science and government, and about modern societies’ deep-rooted anxieties about climate and its vicissitudes.

For more information, see the project blog at www.imperialweather.com

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