Historical Social Research

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Andrea Westermann: Geology and World Politics: Mineral Resource Appraisals as Tools of Geopolitical Calculation, 1919-1939 [Abstract]

How is nature transformed into natural resources? Histories analyzing the state sciences of agriculture and forestry in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries showed that these sciences redefined nature as natural resources by making them amenable to cameralistic calculation, bookkeeping and accountability. Against this background, my first line of inquiry is exploring how, over the twentieth century, nonfuel mineral resource appraisals, i.e. attempts to quantify the metal content of the earth’s crust, became the first hold that societies took on earth matters, transforming them into mineral resources. My second objective is to describe and explain a widening of scope. Around 1900, geologists and other mineral resource experts began to appraise minerals on a global scale and survey trends in the worldwide production and consumption of minerals. I argue that, after World War I, states started to use global mineral resource appraisals as tools of geopolitical calculation, aimed at measuring and managing both natural resources and state power relations. The global perspective was only one reason why mineral resources became amenable to economic and political management on a vast scale, though. In addition, global mineral resource supply and estimates had to be cast and discussed in an explicitly functionalist language in order to fit the interwar technocratic ideas of planning and maintaining world order.

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