Monthly Archives: March 2020

Because on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, on March 16 we were forced to cancel all HPS events for the rest of the spring 2020 semester. We look forward to putting together a new list of events for next year — including, we hope, rescheduling the talks by John Wallingford, Erik Linstrum, and Anna Zeide that were set for later in spring 2020.

In the meantime, take care and stay safe.

6 March 2020 — 12:00 noon — WAG 302

Fredrik Albritton Jonsson (University of Chicago)

“Fossil Futures: the Science and Politics of Coal in Britain, 1800–1870”

The industrial revolution saw the birth of the first fossil fuel economy and the emergence of a cornucopian ideology of growth in Britain. At the same time, geologists transformed the public understanding of the earth’s interior and deep past. These developments in political economy and geology were perhaps more closely intertwined than historians have suspected so far. In this talk, I will argue that the mapping of the British coal supply fostered a new conception of the future, which in turn helped shape important currents in ideology and popular culture. My talk also considers how and why such a coal-centered view of civilization gave way to new visions of the future based on substitution and renunciation by the end of the 1860s. I will finish with a few thoughts about the significance of these developments to our present moment and the politics of decarbonization.


Fredrik Albritton Jonsson is an Associate Professor of History and of Conceptual and Historical Studies in Science at the University of Chicago. He specializes in British history, with a focus on questions of environmental change, science, and political economy in the 18th and 19th centuries. He is the author of Enlightenment’s Frontier: The Scottish Highlands and the Origins of Environmentalism (Yale, 2013) and the coauthor with Vicky Albritton of Green Victorians: The Simple Life in John Ruskin’s Lake District (Chicago, 2016).