Etienne Benson is an Assistant Professor in History and Sociology of Science at Penn. His research and teaching interests center on environmental history, animal history, and the history of the environmental sciences. His articles have appeared in such publications as Environmental History, Environmental Humanities, Social Studies of Science, Osiris, the Journal of the History of Biology, and the Journal of American History. He is the author of Wired Wilderness: Technologies of Tracking and the Making of Modern Wildlife (Johns Hopkins, 2010) as well as the forthcoming book Surroundings: A History of Environmentalisms and Environmentalizations, which explores the diverse ways in which people have conceived of their surroundings in explicitly environmental terms since the late eighteenth century. He is currently researching the role of quantitative data and mathematical models in transforming the scientific study of the Earth’s surface in the twentieth century.
Wolf Humanities Center Penn Faculty Fellow
2018—2019 Forum on Stuff
Janice and Julian Bers Assistant Professor in the Social Sciences, History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania
The Earth without History: Matter and Time in the Science of Landforms
Geomorphology is the field of the Earth sciences concerned with landforms and the processes that shape them. In the mid-twentieth century, geomorphologists rejected qualitative studies of landscape development over long periods of time in favor of quantitative, mathematical, and physical models that focused on the immediate present. In these models, the stuff of the Earth’s surface—particularly stone, soil, sand, and sediment as it was reshaped by wind and water—was represented as being independent of the long-term geological and climatological history of the Earth. By tracing geomorphologists’ participation in new forms of resource extraction in the decades following World War II and their relationships to broader trends in the scientific study of the Earth, my project seeks to understand the causes and consequences of this presentist turn, which was especially dominant from the 1940s to the 1970s but continues to have important legacies today.