Accepted Paper:

Meteorology for 'marginal climates': colonial science in British East Africa  


Martin Mahony (University of East Anglia)

Paper short abstract:

In British colonial practice, colonial atmospheres figured as both resources for cultivation and as spaces for mobility. This paper traces this conflict in the development of meteorological knowledge-making in British East Africa, arguing for a renewed historicisation of Anthropocene infrastructures

Paper long abstract:

Between the two world wars British foreign policy was re-fashioned in the pursuit of economic development and imperial unity, with metropolitan coordination giving way to imperial cooperation in matters of economic and military security. Agricultural development in particular was seen as key to continuing the civilizing mission of Empire, mitigating against discontent among colonial subjects, and promoting the economic prosperity of the whole imperial machine. Yet the development of industrial scale farming in far-flung colonies raised challenges for agricultural scientists, not least regarding the effects of tropical climates on the cultivation of popular export crops. This paper traces the efforts of one colonial meteorologist, Albert Walter OBE, to bring what he defined as 'marginal climates' into the infrastructural reach of an emerging global meteorology, and thus into the circuits of global capital. Attention is drawn to the role of colonial development discourses in the institutionalisation of meteorology as a government science able to understand, predict and perhaps even control the climate. However, the development of a new meteorological infrastructure was not a smooth process, and frequently conflicted with growing demands for aviation meteorology. This paper hones in on these conflicting uses of colonial atmospheres - mobility and cultivation - and suggests that understanding the emergence of the knowledge infrastructures which would later furnish new descriptions of the 'Anthropocene' requires understanding the historical textures of the imaginaries and practices through which they were articulated.

Panel A16
Infrastructures of the Anthropocene