Melissa Charenko

Ph.D. Candidate Department of the History of Science University of Wisconsin-Madison

2016 to 2017
Research Fellow

"The Science of Prophecy"? The Role of the Paleo-Disciplines in the Face of Anthropogenic Change, 1916-2015

The long timescales of human-caused environmental change are forcing scientists, policy makers, and humanists to confront the deep past and humans' place within earth's systems. I explore the origins, development, and consequences of discussions about anthropogenic change and deep time by examining how disciplines which evoked the land- and waterscapes of the geological past positioned themselves in the 20th and 21st centuries. To understand environmental change over the long term, these disciplines used proxies, preserved recorders of environmental variability which stand in for direct measurements of past environmental conditions. By piecing together information from proxies, the paleo-disciplines generated knowledge about earth's processes and made prognostications about the future. I aim to show that the knowledge they generated challenged assumptions about the stability of earth's systems and the future of life by both lengthening and broadening the scale of earth's history, which put anthropogenic change in perspective.