Information is crucial when it comes to the management of resources. But what if knowledge is incomplete, or biased, or otherwise deficient? How did people define patterns of proper use in the absence of cognitive certainty? Discussing this challenge for a diverse set of resources from fish to rubber, these essays show that deficient knowledge is a far more pervasive challenge in resource history than conventional readings suggest.
Furthermore, environmental ignorance does not inevitably shrink with the march of scientific progress: these essays suggest more of a dialectical relationship between knowledge and ignorance that has different shapes and trajectories. With its combination of empirical case studies and theoretical reflection, the essays make a significant contribution to the interdisciplinary debate on the production and resilience of ignorance. At the same time, Managing the Unknown combines insights from different continents as well as the seas in between and thus sketches outlines of an emerging global resource history.
Introduction: The Social Functions of Ignorance
Frank Uekötter and Uwe Lübken
Chapter 1. Guayule Fever. Los Knowledge and Struggles for a Natural Rubber Reserve in the American West
Mark R. Finlay
Chapter 2. Thinking in Cycles. Flows of Nitrogen and Sustainable Uses of the Environment
Hugh S. Gorman
Chapter 3. The Forests of Canada. Seeing the Forests for the Trees
Chapter 4. Forest Law in the Palestine Mandate. Colonial Conservation in a Unique Context
Chapter 5. Perception and Use of Marine Biological Resources under National Socialist Autarky Policy
Chapter 6. Ignorance is Strength. Science-based Agriculture and the Merits of Incomplete Knowledge
Chapter 7. Expert Estimates of Oil-Reserves and the Transformation of “Petroknowledge” in the Western World from the 1950s to the 1970s
Chapter 8. Reducing Uncertainty with Scenarios?
List of Contributors
Frank Uekötter is Reader at the School of History and Cultures of the University of Birmingham. His publications include The Age of Smoke: Environmental Policy in Germany and the United States, 1880-1970 (2009), The Green and the Brown: A History of Conservation in Nazi Germany (2006) and, as editor, The Turning Points of Environmental History (2010). He is currently working on a global resource history.
Uwe Lübken joined the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in 2009 and currently serves as director of the project “Disaster Migration in a Historical Perspective”. He received his habilitation in 2010 for a study on flooding of the Ohio River. His most recent publications include, as an editor, a special issue of the journal Global Environment (9/2012) on Environmental Change and Migration in History and, together with Greg Bankoff and Jordan Sand, Flammable Cities: Urban Conflagration and the Making of the Modern World (2012).
"This is an interesting and well written set of essays that provides fresh and illuminating insights on many important topics, which makes it indispensible to practitioners and students of environmental history across the globe. Indeed, because it comments on so many topical issues, it should be of interest to anyone concerned about current environmental problems, their origins and possible solutions (especially making manufacturing, forestry and farming sustainable, controlling waste and pollution and finding renewable energy sources). The chapters are of a uniformly high standard and the introduction expertly places them in context."
– Tom Brooking, University of Otago