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Carboniferous Time: Victorian Coal at the Anthropocene Transition

Date and Time: 
Thursday, January 25, 2018. 06:00 PM - 07:30 PM
Meeting Location: 
Margaret Jacks Hall, Terrace Room
Workshop: 
The Environmental Humanities Project
Meeting Description: 

This talk theorizes the paradoxical temporality of coal as it was imagined in Britain during the transition from biofuels to fossil fuels. Victorian popularizers of geology often described coal's origins in awe-inspiring forests that stored ancient solar energy. Simultaneously, economists such as William Stanley Jevons warned that British coal might soon be exhausted, leading to the collapse of empire. Discourses of coal were thus caught between the wonder of deep time and the fear of a curtailed national future. Scholars in the environmental humanities have directed increasing attention to histories of energy--but have we escaped the impasse of carboniferous time, which viciously binds deep time to eschatology?

Benjamin Morgan is Associate Professor of English Literature at the University of Chicago and currently an External Fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center. His current book project, "In Human Scale: The Aesthetics of Climate Change," asks how art and literature try to bring long and vast processes of ecological devastation into human frames of reference.

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