Relocating meteorology.

To be a physical scientist is to operate in a very confined world, treating only a small class of variables susceptible to easy measurement and contributing to a narrow range of processes amenable to mathematical treatment and laboratory experiment or observation. Living things, especially thoughtful, reasoning living things, are presumed to play little or no role. As I’ve observed elsewhere, doing physics is like bowling with the gutter guards of math and experiment up and functional. It’s like looking at the world through the large end of the telescope. Newton was right to say that oceans of truth lay undiscovered all around him[1].

To be a social scientist is to live under the same constraints. Logic still rules. Tools and means for experiment and observation are available. Surveys, interviewing, focus groups, and every sort of psychological test all provide data which can be subjected to rigorous statistical analysis. The number and diagnostic power of all these tools grow daily. Technology and social networking create new opportunities for understanding.

But relatively speaking, social scientists live and breathe free. Their work is more like bocce – and in fact, more like bocce on unprepared, irregular terrain. More daunting – and more adventuresome.

Today’s example comes from this morning’s e-mail, and from the history of meteorology. Until minutes ago, I did not know that meteorology can and possibly should be relocated. Now my social scientist friends may have known of this possibility all along, and I may be the last person standing to hear of it, but I’m betting most of my fellow meteorologists were similarly ignorant.

Here’s the call for papers from the International Commission on the History of Meteorology for submission to special issue of their journal The History of Meteorology.

The text of the call in its entirety is reprinted here to call the attention of social scientists to the opportunity, and to give meteorologists a feel for the language and the thought process. What an interesting and refreshing set of ideas!

A side-note. In the text you’ll see reference to work of Roger Turner, who participated in the 2004 AMS Summer Policy Colloquium while a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. He’s now an associate fellow in history at Dickinson College.

History of Meteorology.Call for Papers – Themed Issue Relocating Meteorology. Editors: Martin Mahony (University of Nottingham) & Angelo Matteo Caglioti (University of California, Berkeley)

Geographers, STS scholars, environmental historians, and historians of science have recently rediscovered the history of meteorology. They have recognized meteorology as a central, rather than peripheral discipline at the intersection of the relationship between science, environment, and society. Histories of nineteenth and twentieth century meteorology tell of great theoretical strides and pioneering individuals. However, they also increasingly focus on new questions, concerning, inter alia, the role of technology and material culture in meteorological knowledge production, the use of weather knowledges in the service of industrial, financial or agricultural interests, and the enduring significance of local cultures in the face of new emphases on global processes. Global and local at the same time, the history of meteorology is being re-articulated as the result of a plurality of histories that still offer a largely uncharted territory to historical inquiry.

This themed issue of the journal History of Meteorology aims to build upon these new trajectories by bringing together innovative papers that together open new research directions and pioneer the task of ‘relocating meteorology’. In his influential book Relocating Modern Science, Kapil Raj calls for a historiographical revolution in how we deal with the development of ‘western’ sciences, calling for a shift in focus from processes of diffusion from metropole to periphery, towards models of circulation and intercultural encounter in the production of inherently hybrid forms of knowledge. Historians of meteorology can profitably view the challenge of ‘relocating meteorology’ as both a call to question the geographical boundaries of our historical inquiries, but also as an invitation to examine various ‘relocations’ of meteorology itself – the processes and practices through which meteorology ‘travelled’, found new audiences and users, and was woven into new social and environmental projects of world-making. Papers for the themed issue may therefore address some of the following – or related – topics:

 New spaces and places. Current histories tend to focus on developments in various meteorological metropoles, and historians often remain prisoners of the boundaries of the nation state and its centralized archives. But what was happening in locations more distant from the centres of western wealth and power? What were the histories of meteorology in European colonies, emerging post-colonial states, and trans-national networks of intellectual exchange? How did new theories and practices change, adapt, and hybridise as they spread from Bergen or Washington, for example? What was the role of natural environments in such processes of transmission and transformation? Following these broader circulations, and the technologies, resources and intermediaries that made them possible, may permit new answers to the question of the enduring importance of space and place in the history of meteorology.

 New actors. Theory-builders and institution-builders tend to dominate our histories. Yet new questions are now being asked about how a broader range of actors contributed to

the production of knowledge of weather and climate. How did agriculturalists, engineers, insurance clerks, colonists, military personnel, medics and others produce new forms of knowledge and put them to work? To what extent can we characterise meteorology and climatology as products of encounter and exchange between diverse social and cultural groups? And what do such questions mean for how we think about issues of authority and credibility in the history of the atmospheric sciences?

 New practices and material cultures. Technology played a crucial role in driving developments in meteorology, shaping new practices and opening new fields of atmospheric vision. Knowledges of weather and climate have also played key roles in the development of broader socio-technical systems, most notably perhaps in the case of aviation where, functioning as what Roger Turner calls an ‘infrastructural science’, meteorology quietly participated in the construction of the atmosphere as a traversable space, amid new practices and cultures of observation, forecasting, and risk management. In Paul Edwards’ terms, meteorology was a crucial part of the transformation of the study of the atmosphere into a global “vast machine.” What more can be said about such ‘hidden’ aspects of meteorology, and the mutual transformations of meteorological science and broader socio-technical systems? What was the role of the circulation of standardised forms, instruments and data in the production of infrastructural networks? How did these systems become sites of contestation over scientific authority, trustworthiness and risk?

Submissions are invited from scholars in history, science & technology studies, sociology, geography and related fields who are interested in addressing these and related questions in the history of meteorology, climatology and the atmospheric sciences from the 19th century to the present day. Early career researchers are particularly encouraged to make submissions. Please send an extended abstract (300-800 words) to and by Friday 30th September. Full papers will then be requested by the end of January 2017.

Guest editors

Martin Mahony

School of Geography, University of Nottingham

Angelo Matteo Caglioti

Centre for Science, Technology, Medicine & Society, University of California, Berkeley

History of Meteorology is a fully peer-reviewed, open-access journal produced by the International Commission on the History of Meteorology. The Editor-in-Chief is James R. Fleming.

Fellow meteorologists, prepare to share the experience of those Crimeans who went to sleep in the Ukraine and awoke in Russia.


[1]Witness the fact that for centuries physics has focused unwittingly on the behavior of only four percent or so of the matter-energy in the universe, onlyin recent decades discovering and sharing with the rest of us that all that all that analysis and rigor doesn’t account for so-called dark matter and dark energy. So that this morning, for example, we learn of the existence of a dark-matter galaxy, some 300 million light years away.

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