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Dahlem Humanities Center Lecture with Etienne Benson: "Knowledge in a Crisis: The Dust Bowl, the New Deal, and the Sciences of Wind, Water, and Land"

News from Feb 01, 2024

Date: February 6th, 2024 at 6:15 pm.

Location: Freie Universität Berlin, Seminarzentrum Raum L 116, Otto-von-Simson-Straße 26, 14195 Berlin

The Dust Bowl of the 1930s is one of the most iconic and well-studied environmental disasters in the history of the United States, but it remains underexamined from one important perspective: that of the history of science. Alongside the environmental, economic, social, and political impacts of the extended drought in the southern Great Plains were also significant epistemological impacts. The seemingly sudden transformation of the landscape-the drifting of topsoil, the silting up of rivers, the widening of gullies, the loss of vegetation-bankrupted farms, sowed political unrest, and drove migrants onto the roads, but it also overturned then-dominant theories of landscape change. In the midst of this crisis, geologists, hydrologists, ecologists, and meteorologists scrambled to gather new data, revise their understanding of interactions between wind, water, and land, and bring those new understandings to bear on policy. Those new understandings and forms of expertise proved to be critical to the implementation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal, which dramatically expanded the role of the federal government in managing the American landscape. Their legacies lingered well into the early decades of the Cold War era, when they became central to U.S. technical assistance and international development programs. In this lecture, I reconstruct this period of scientific and political change and identify resonances with our present moment of political instability and environmental crisis.

Please register here until February 5th if you wish to attend.

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