The quest to comprehend Earth’s antiquity and to account for its development along a geological timescale spanning hundreds of millions, if not billions of years captivated the scientific world of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Landscapes, rock strata, and fossils became reimagined as words and chapters that, with the right tools, could be made legible and used to reconstruct a cohesive record of Earth’s deep time. At the same time, efforts to better understand Earth’s past were intimately related to enterprises to better exploit its mineral and fossil resources for the present; the earth sciences and the logics and global infrastructures of empire were mutually dependent and constitutive of one another. This course investigates the practices involved in making knowledge of Earth’s deep time--from collecting and mapping to scaling and valuating--as well as the diverse practitioners who, alongside prominent thinkers like Cuvier, Werner, Darwin, and Lyell, helped ‘burst the limits of time’ (e.g. fossil dealers, quarry workers, colonial officials, writers, visual artists, etc.). Further, the course reflects on the relationship of these scientific practices and practitioners to the geopolitical dynamics of empire-building since the eighteenth century.

Semester: SoSe 2024