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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - IRI THESys

Lectures 2017/18


Most of our public lectures are available on video!


From forest to farmland and meadow to metropolis, or, when did the Anthropocene begin?

THESys Lecture Series

Thurs, 16 November 2017, 17.15
Grimm-Zentrum, Geschwister-Scholl-Str. 1/3, Auditorium

Did humans affect global climate before the Industrial Era? While this question is hotly debated, the co-evolution of humans and the natural environment since the last Ice Age had an undisputed role in influencing the development and present state of terrestrial ecosystems, many of which are highly valued today as economic, cultural, and ecological resources. Yet we still have a very incomplete picture of human-environment interactions over the last 21,000 years, both spatially and temporally.

In order to address this problem, Jed Kaplan has prepared a new synthesis of demographic, technological, and economic development over preindustrial time, and a database of historical urbanization covering the last 8000 years. These data are combined with a dynamic global vegetation model to quantify the magnitude and timing of global anthropogenic land cover change in the late Pleistocene and preindustrial Holocene. This integrated model is driven with paleoclimate from GCM scenarios and simulates global land cover and human land use change, fire, soil erosion, and emissions of CO2 and methane (CH4).

Jed Kaplan's results highlight the importance of the long histories of both climate change and human demographic, economic, and technological history on the development of continental-scale landscapes. Kaplan emphasizes the need for improved datasets that use archaeological data synthesis and build on recent theory of preindustrial economic and technological change. A large source of uncertainty in our results comes from assumptions we make about the rates and timing of technologically driven intensification of land use, and the importance of international trade for the subsistence of preindustrial societies.

Jed Kaplan was born in Berkeley, California USA. He studied Earth Sciences and Geography at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire USA and received his Ph.D. in Plant Ecology at Lund University, Sweden in 2001. Jed held postdoctoral fellowships in Germany, Canada, Italy and Switzerland, and became a Swiss National Science Foundation Professor in 2008. He held professorships at the Federal Technical University of Lausanne, the University of Geneva, and the University of Lausanne. He is currently senior scientist at ARVE Research GmbH and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

Location: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Grimm-Zentrum, Geschwister-Scholl-Str. 1/3, Auditorium (ground floor)

  Base load and its discontents

  THESys Lecture Series

 Thurs, 07 December 2017, 17.15 

 Grimm-Zentrum, Geschwister-Scholl-Str. 1/3, Auditorium


This lecture seeks to document changes in expert thinking about how electricity can and should be generated and provided in the future; and it contributes to a broader scholarly effort to surface the role that electricity has played in our modernity. 

Dominic Boyer argues specifically that the relationship of electricity and modernity fundamentally involves the problem of desire—specifically the desires for modern luxury and convenience, the desire for freedom from onerous labor, but also the irrational desire of endless economic growth and wealth generation and the repetition compulsion of investment in fossil fuels even as signs of global warming and ecological disruption multiply.

Since psychoanalysis is the only domain of social theory that takes desire seriously as a political force in its own right, Freud emerges as a muse for thinking through the aspirations of wind power development and grid expansion in Mexico’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec as well as the contentious politics of “ baseload” and “smart grid” in the global North.

Dominic Boyer is Professor of Anthropology and Director of CENHS (Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences) at Rice University, Houston (TX).

Location: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Grimm-Zentrum, Geschwister-Scholl-Str. 1/3, Auditorium (ground floor)

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