Monday workshop
Monday, January 29, 2024 - 3:30pm
Nature's Proxies: A History of Studying Past and Future Climates
“Climate” defies easy definition. Anyone can observe or feel some aspects of the weather, but they can never experience the full temporal or spatial range that is climate. Many aspects of climate are beyond direct human experience. Climate must be mediated through computer models, instruments like thermometers, and organic and inorganic remains known as proxies that indirectly record the ebb and flow of climate over millions of years. With such varied ways to know climate, it is no wonder that scientific observers have advanced competing ideas about climate, many with some truth to them.
Prof. Charenko's talk will focus on knowledge production by climate proxies such as fossil pollen, tree rings, and ice cores. In the twentieth century, scientists developed several techniques to infer past climate from many different proxies. She shows how the different slices of time and space made visible with each proxy shaped notions of climate itself. She also examine how these varied interpretations of climate played an outsized role in explanations of human history and destiny. Scientists interested in climate over long timescales routinely discussed how climate influenced plants, animals, and, notably, people. By following the scientists who reconstructed climate using the natural archives, she shows how material objects worked with scientists' perceptions of human groups to compel, constrain, and reinforce their understandings of climate, history, and the future.