Munich Centre for Global History

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The Marine Environmental Awareness. Knowledge, Media and Politics of a Thriving Underwater World

The image of the "Blue Marble" became a symbol of environmental protection and of a new planetary consciousness during the second half of the twentieth century. While it was the oceans' water which rendered this image blue, current environmental history still considers the emergence of an environmental awareness in a land-based way. The common road into the ecological era leads us through events on solid ground. The appearance of Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring (1962), the oil crises (1973; 1979/1980), as well as the formation of the environmental movement in civil-society count as the indicators of a new awareness of nature's needs. In contrast to that narrative, this project develops the thesis that the marine biological research of the German Empire created the basic fundamentals of our current environmental awareness. These fundamentals include the concepts of "biocenosis", "ecology" and the "environment". The project's guiding question is how this specific knowledge of marine animals evolved into the broader understanding of the environment on a global scale. This issue is addressed through three themes. The first theme is the institutionalization of marine biology as a field of knowing and way of understanding the marine world between the 1870s and 1930s. The second core topic focuses on the emergence of film technologies between the 1920s and 1960s, their ways of making the underwater world visible as ecological systems and connecting marine animals to the human culture. The third theme concentrates on development politics as a heuristic laboratory. This theme demonstrates the shift that took place between the 1960s and 1980s and changed the ocean's meaning from a utopian resource reservoir to an asset deserving protection.

Nature of the project:
DFG-funded project ("Eigene Stelle"), part of it: Habilitation in Modern History


Participating researchers:
Dr. Franziska Torma