Environmental histories of the Visegrad countries:

Cold War and the environmental sciences

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Background

Environmental histories of the Visegrad countries: Cold War and the environmental sciences

Writing in the introduction to a recent edited volume on Environmental Histories of the Cold War, the two editors noted that while “. The study of Cold War science has blossomed over the past fifteen years…little has been written about the development and importance of the environmental sciences.“ (McNeill and Unger, 2010, p. 14). The Cold War period is characterised by multiple environmental histories with themes ranging from large-scale environmental interventions rooted in the application of, and unassailable belief in, advanced technologies to smaller-scale military-industrial initiatives, de-militarised zones and even the activities of social movements. Importantly, many of the activities, events and environmental science agendas of this period continue to influence the shape of contemporary environmental issues and concerns. At the same time, beyond the large-scale environmental dramas of the Cold War period (nuclear power, chemical weapons, etc.), relatively little is known about the ways in which the environmental sciences and associated understandings were communicated and debated across the East-West divide. In recognition of this, the project’s scientific agenda aims to critically explore the nature, character and culture(s) of East-West interaction with respect to the environmental sciences during the Cold War period via a focus on natural resource management issues as well as specific issues such as climate change science. Questions of interest include: In what way(s) did the Cold War context influence the development of the environmental sciences on both sides of the ideological divide? What was the nature and character of this context/what elements were of particular importance to subsequent developments in the environmental sciences? What was the nature of the connections between environmental scientists, their scientific output, and the state during this period? What were the links between advancements in environmental scientific understanding and the broader environmental movement? How did ideas and concepts travel across the East-West divide with respect to the environmental sciences? How important were large-scale international endeavours such as the International Geophysical Year or the International Biological Progamme in facilitating such communication?

The research project is grounded on existing (both formal and informal) networks of historians and social scientists interested in the history of science, environmental history, and associated areas of research. However, such interdisciplinary networks are perhaps less evident, and more fragmented, in Central Europe due to the legacy of communism and its associated management of scientific endeavour. Efforts to engender collaboration between the humanities and social sciences within Central Europe post-1989 have had relatively limited impact. As such, one of our key aims is to bring researchers from the Visegrad countries together in order to establish a robust and long-term interdisciplinary scientific network of Visegrad researchers interested in furthering understanding related to the nature and character of environmental science endeavour during the Cold War period. In order to facilitate this, we intend to organize two linked workshops during a year-long funded network underpinned by the production of an edited volume.

References: McNeill, J.R. and Unger, C.R. (eds.) 2010. Environmental Histories of the Cold War, Cambridge University Press & German Historical Institute, Washington D.C.