Scripps Lecture Captures Ocean Science Exploration between World Wars


Two periods of modern oceanography traditionally have garnered the attention of science historians: voyages of the late 19th century and the post World War II - Cold War era. Recently, spurred by the 100th anniversary of the first world war, science historians have turned their attention to the 1910s and 1920s as a critical era when rapid transformations brought new dimensions to marine sciences and offered fresh possibilities for exploring the global oceans.

Katharine Anderson, a historian of science in the Department of Humanities at York University in Toronto, will present a free public lecture, “Experimenting with the Expedition: Renewing the Ocean Sciences after World War I,” on Feb. 8, 2016, at 3 p.m. at the Robert Paine Scripps Forum for Science Society and the Environment on the Scripps Oceanography campus (8610 Kennel Way, La Jolla, CA 92037).

“For the oceans, the inter-war period is really striking: radio and aviation made the ocean environment a different place and gave different reasons to study it,” said Anderson. “Politically, too, the end of the war made international collaboration in science seem newly urgent. On top of this, there were pressing scientific puzzles about how best to study oceans and atmospheres.”

Anderson’s lecture is part of her recognition as the 2015 recipient of Scripps’s William E. and Mary B. Ritter Memorial Fellowship, which honors a scholar of marine science history and includes research funds and an honorarium. The Ritter Fellowship was created through an endowment from Robert Cody, nephew of William Ritter, Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s founding director, and the fellowship is named for Ritter and his wife, Mary.

Anderson says the technologies and politics of the post-World War I era acted to sharpen intellectual questions about the proper scale of scientific investigation of large fluid spaces such as the ocean and atmosphere.

“I think the science of this era tells us a lot about the roots of modern globalism—about how to make sense of the physical world as an inter-related whole, and the puzzle about how, practically, to study the relationships between phenomena. These are the kind of questions that of course explode further in the satellite and computing era. They have given us the framework of the ‘global thinking’ of today, of all flavors: scientific, economic, and political.”

At York University, Anderson teaches the history of science and technology in the modern period. Her research interests include scientific exploration, the history of weather and climate, science and the oceans in the early 20th century, the history of scientific instruments, and the study of material culture as a bridge between and among disciplines associated with science and technology studies.

Anderson received her PhD in 1994 from Northwestern University, a master’s degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and a bachelor’s degree from McGill University.

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