Lissa Roberts: "What is coal? Reconsidering the historical formation of a substance's identity"

  • Date: –15:00
  • Location: Engelska parken - The Rausing Room
  • Organiser: Department of History of Science and Ideas
  • Contact person: H. Otto Sibum
  • Seminarium

Office for History of Science

Lissa Roberts, University of Twente: "What is coal? Reconsidering the historical formation of a substance's identity"


Abstract
What is coal? Is it a chemical compound, composed primarily of carbon with variable proportions of hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and sulfur? A combustible, sedimentary rock? An important source of energy that fuelled the industrial revolution? A major source of pollution and climate change? A subject of litigation and regulation? A scarce resource whose exploitation pit capitalists against the laboring class? The material medium that ushered in the Anthropocene? While each of these questions alone is a worthy subject for historical inquiry, bringing them together as an investigative 'package deal’ points to the historical character of coal's very identity and helps us recognize the historical plasticity of distinctions between the processes, governance and consequences of material and knowledge production more generally. Key to this presentation is an analysis of coal as a historically  evolving category - at once ontological, epistemological, material, political, social, economic and environmental in nature and consequence.