Monday 18 January 2016

This blog is in hibernation

Thanks to all those who have been following this blog for the last few years. Now that we have finished our PhDs and are starting new academic projects of our own in different areas we have decided that it is best for us both to blog on our own dedicated websites, rather than on this shared space. We will leave the Topograph archive as it is, but please be aware that this blog will no longer be updated.

Martin is now a British Academy and Nottingham Research Fellow in the Department of Geography at the University of Nottingham, working on the historical geographies of science, empire and climate. He now has a dedicated website for updates from his project.

Helen is currently a Senior Research Associate at the University of East Anglia working on a UK Energy Research Centre Project on public participation in energy transitions. From April 2016 she will be taking up a lectureship in the Human Geography of the Environment at the University of East Anglia. Follow her new blog for updates on new research projects and teaching.

Monday 7 December 2015

New website:

By Martin

I've created a new website - - dedicated to my fellowship project which I described in the previous post. I though it would be a good idea to gather together blog posts, publications and updates from this project all in one place. Enjoy!

Friday 4 December 2015

New post at Nottingham and the 'Imperial Weather' project

By Martin 

It's been a long time coming but this week I finally took up my new fellowship position in the School of Geography at the University of Nottingham. Officially, I'm a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow and Nottingham Research Fellow, which means three years of research funding to develop a project on climate, empire and the history of colonial meteorology called 'Imperial weather: meteorology and the making of 20th century colonialism' (check out my new project website at Essentially this project is building upon and deepening the work I did at King's College London with the help of some funding from the RGS-IBG (see here).

Friday 11 September 2015

Commonwealth Climates - project report

I've recently been wrapping up some work on the history of meteorology and climatology in the British Empire, funded by the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers; RGS-IBG). The final project report which has been submitted to RGS-IBG can be downloaded here. A summary of the report is below:

What effects did the political structures of the British Empire and the Commonwealth have on the emergence and spread of meteorological science globally during the 20th century? How did the development of such global sciences function as legitimating tools in arguments for continued colonial rule? Such questions arise from a growing body of scholarship on the historical geographies of colonial science, and were addressed in this project through archival research on the Conference of Empire Meteorologists (CEM) and the later Conference of Commonwealth Meteorologists (CCM). From 1919 these networks provided a space for knowledge exchange and for scientific standardisation, and offered their imperial backers a science of the atmosphere which could contribute to the improvement of transport and commerce across the British Empire. By tracing the priorities and achievements of these networks from the age of imperial consolidation, through decolonisation and the emergence of the Commonwealth, it has been possible to explore how international meteorological and climatological practices have evolved alongside shifting forms of colonial and postcolonial power. By focusing attention on sites and time periods heretofore neglected in the history of meteorology, this project makes important contributions to debates about the historical geographies of science and empire.

It's been a very productive project, with a number of resulting conference papers and a piece which I'm currently revising for the Journal of Historical Geography. The project also gave me the space to develop much more ambitious plans, which have resulted in me being awarded a British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellowship and a Nottingham Research Fellowship to pursue related topics in the School of Geography at the University of Nottingham. I'll be heading up there in December.

Wednesday 22 July 2015

Wrapping up the PhD

By Helen

This Thursday I will officially receive my doctorate at my PhD graduation ceremony. It is now almost seven months since I handed my thesis in and more than five months since I passed my viva. I've been employed as a full-time research associate since the start of 2015, but it seems to take a long time to truly wrap up the PhD. There's of course the small matter of the viva, and then professionally printing and resubmitting the final version of the thesis before you can really breathe a sigh of relief and entertain the thought that you are now moving into a new phase of your (academic) career. And even then there are many loose ends to tie up in terms of reporting important findings to research partners, sharing the finished thesis with them and others, working out when and in what contexts you can use the title 'Dr' before your name, and of course trying to write up high quality journal articles based on your PhD research. Someone told me that it took them until years after completing the PhD to really understand what it was about and see it in broader context, whilst others have said I'll be amazed at how quickly I'll be prepared to cast it aside and move onto other things. 

My public graduation ceremony, however, seems like a good time to draw some sort of line under the PhD experience by reporting on some of my main findings and reflecting on some of the things I've learnt. My PhD thesis entitled 'Organising science policy: participation, learning & experimentation in British democracy' is available open access here. Below I have tried to briefly summarise my approach and findings.

Wednesday 1 July 2015

Klimahaus Bremerhaven: in the world interior of climate

By Martin

I recently visited the Klimahaus in Bremerhaven, northern Germany along with cultural anthropologist Werner Krauss. Klimahaus is a unique museum dedicated to humanity's relationship to climate. The main body of the museum leads visitors on a journey along the line of 8-degrees Longitude, following a modern-day explorer as he heads south from Bremerhaven to Switzerland, through Italy and the Sahara, into Cameroon, across the south Atlantic and over Antarctica. From there visitors head across the Pacific, calling in on Samoa and Alaska, before looping back to northern Germany at Hallig Langeness. At each stop, visitors enter an exhibition dedicated to the climate of the location, exploring its role in shaping human life and culture. In a rather old-fashioned anthropological tradition, we are introduced to the 'customs and traditions' of the locals, while immersed in the heat or cold, humidity or aridity of their climate.

Monday 18 May 2015

Wer nicht will deichen, der muss weichen: a fieldtrip in Nordfriesland

By Martin

Last Thursday Helen and I travelled with Werner Krauss and Dorle Dracklé to Nordfriesland to explore some of the places and politics that make up emerging energy landscapes in the region. Werner and Dorle are both anthropologists who have conducted work on the emergence of renewable energy systems across Europe. Werner in particular has had a long ethnographic engagement with the area which stretches north of Hamburg towards the Danish border; a land of salt marshes, wide open skies, migratory birds, farming communities, coastal trippers and wind turbines. Hailing from Norfolk, we felt an uncanny sense of familiarity in this otherwise strange landscape.

Thursday 9 April 2015

Media Cultures of Computer Simulation - visiting fellowship

by Martin

(c) MECS 2015
I'll be spending the next couple of months as a Research Fellow at the MECS Institute in Lueneburg, Germany - the Institute for Advanced Study on Media Cultures of Computer Simulation. It's a really interesting, small interdisciplinary group of scholars united by an interest in the transformations wrought by computer simulation on knowledge-making and forms of life, thus connecting with my interests in the role of climate simulation in the science and politics of climate change.

Wednesday 4 February 2015

Argument, Authority, Anxiety - special section of History of Meteorology

(c) Evgenia Arbugaeva
The latest volume of the journal History of Meteorology features a special section on 'Argument, Authority and Anxiety' in the atmospheric sciences edited by Ruth Morgan. It includes papers presented at a day-long symposium held as part of the International Congress of History of Science, Technology and Medicine in Manchester in 2013.

Taken together, the papers present an interesting narrative of the ambiguous place the atmospheric sciences have occupied in wider scientific and cultural landscapes over time, and of the anxieties atmospheric scientists themselves have felt about their professional credibility and authority. Papers range from Australian colonial meteorology and the use of weather knowledge by 19th century British insurance companies to more contemporary concerns about the politics of climate change and the role of scientists and scientific institutions in public debate. The collection includes some of my own thoughts on some of the recent controversies which have swirled around the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Friday 16 January 2015

New Year, New Job

By Helen

I've been a bit quiet on this blog over the past few months, mostly because I was in the final throes of writing up my PhD thesis. I finally completed that task in December, and after a bit of R & R over the Christmas break I've now returned to the 3S research group at UEA as a senior research associate, looking at public participation in and around the energy system. Initially I'm working on the Realising Transition Pathways (EPSRC) project, following up on the Making energy publics workshop which I helped to organised in April last year. I'll produce a full report of the workshop soon and then we're hoping to write a review paper based on some of the themes of the workshop.

Friday 5 December 2014

Life in the Anthropocene: reflections on a couple of recent talks

Whenever You Breathe Out, I Breathe In (2014) - David Gasi
By Martin

A couple of talks I attended last week threw up some interesting links and comparisons, and offered some useful snapshots into the direction of travel among those interested in ideas about the Anthropocene and the nature of the human.

Wednesday 3 December 2014

The Tragedy of Climate Change - forthcoming public lecture by Joshua Howe at King's College London

(c) Rosa Merk
On January 7th  the Department of Geography at KCL is hosting Joshua Howe for a public lecture on the history of climate politics in the US. Howe is the author of Behind the Curve: Science and the Politics of Global Warming, and will be talking to the title: 

The Tragedy of Climate Change:History, science, and the politics of global warming in the United States

Here's the abstract for the talk:

'Author of the recent book Behind the Curve, Joshua Howe uses the narrative lens of tragedy as a way to make sense of our collective failure to mitigate global warming in a meaningful way.  He tells the story of rising CO2 – illustrated by the now famous Keeling Curve – through a variety of historical contexts.  In so doing Howe highlights the ways in which the well-intended efforts of scientists and environmentalists to use more and better science to shape global warming policy have at times undermined the political ability to implement solutions.  Although science is essential to understanding global warming, a primary and often exclusive focus on science in public discourse has left advocates for progressive climate change policy vulnerable to political opposition.  This is the tragedy of climate change.'

Vlad Jankovic, historian of science at the University of Manchester, will offer a response, before we move to a wine reception. The talk is free to attend and open to all, and registration can be completed here:

It's set to be a really fascinating talk, and Howe's take on the role of scientists as advocates for political action will be of interest to anyone concerned with the politics of climate change.

Thursday 21 August 2014

New paper on the 'burning embers'

By Martin

My analysis of the history of the IPCC's 'burning embers' diagram has now been published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. I've written a short post for the Geography Directions blog which offers an introduction to some of the themes which the paper addresses. A little while ago I also wrote a blog post which put the IPCC's new version of the diagram in historical context: see here. Below is the new paper's abstract:

Wednesday 4 June 2014

New paper: 'The geographies of the conference'

Protesting the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting
Ruth Craggs and I have a new paper out in Geography Compass which reviews existing work on the political and cultural geographies of conferences in politics and science.

The collaboration emerged from the discovery of a shared interest in conferences as sites of knowledge production and political action, where the micro-geographies of social interaction collide with broader geopolitical or cultural forces in the pursuit of agreement, consensus or dissent. Conferences play an important part in the rhythms of both science and politics, and we thought it would be interesting to put these spheres next to each other in order to tease out some commonalities. Of course, conferences often do this work of conjunction themselves, with conferences on issues like climate change frequently bringing together individuals from the very different social worlds of science and politics into the same room, with fascinating consequences.

Tuesday 8 April 2014

Red mist descending: the curious history of the IPCC's 'burning embers'

By Martin

A couple of years ago I wrote a short paper (here in PDF) with Mike Hulme discussing the evolution of the IPCC's (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) 'reasons for concern' diagram, which became colloquially known as the burning embers. I'm now putting the finishing touches to a longer paper on the production and circulation of the diagram, and how it's become a prominent part of the visual culture of climate change. Last week, a new chapter opened in this story with the publication of the IPCC's Working Group II report on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. As with previous updates to the diagram, the headline is: "it's worse than we thought".