Frozen Icons: The science and politics of repeat glacier photographs, 1887-2010
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Inkpen, Danielle Kara
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CitationInkpen, Danielle Kara. 2018. Frozen Icons: The science and politics of repeat glacier photographs, 1887-2010. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractAround the globe, mountain glaciers are retreating at alarming rates. For many non-scientists, this acceleration is one of the clearest, most convincing signs of human-induced global climate change. In the early 2000s, glaciers emerged as icons of global warming, their rapid and unnatural recession offering visual evidence that humans were transforming the climate. Time-lapse and repeat photographs (juxtapositions of the same perspective taken at different times) appeared in a wide-array of media, establishing an iconography of ice with a clear message: global warming is happening, and its effects are evident. Photographs of shrinking glaciers were offered as visual evidence of a warming world, and came to stand for anthropogenic climate change. Yet, photographs of receding ice were not new and did not, by themselves, say why the ice was receding.
This dissertation situates these representations of environmental risk in their historical contexts of production by examining how research agenda, practices, and contexts of motivation in North American mountain glaciology evolved over the long twentieth century. It is structured around three chronologically-emergent regimes of research: glacier naturalism, geophysical glaciology, and environmental glaciology. The practices and evidential standards of these regimes were variously conditioned by cultures of mountain recreation, nationalist ideologies, regional geographies, forms of patronage, and Cold War geopolitics. As glacier study changed, so too did the fortunes of photography as field technique and photographs as a form of evidence.
For the naturalists and mountaineers who first studied North American glaciers, photographs were important pieces of scientific evidence that could speak to the nature and causes of ice ages. Drawing upon research agenda and techniques developed by Europeans and the enabling power of military support, glaciologists in the 1940s turned to physical and structural studies of ice and snow. At this time, many of them abandoned photographs in favour of more quantitative representations. This shift in standards of evidence left glaciology poorly equipped to offer compelling evidence of climate change to non-experts at the end of the century. Historically-entrenched agenda, practices, and notions of good evidence initially hindered glaciologists’ abilities to provide representations that could make glaciers speak beyond expert circles. For glaciers to serve as icons of climate change, glaciologists had to return to previously abandoned forms of evidence, side-stepping trajectories of escalating technicality that characterize histories of the modern earth sciences. The environmental iconography of ice that emerged in response to climate change denial in the 1990s and 2000s required returning to the repeat photograph and refashioning it as evidence for public consumption.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41121218
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