"Rain, Sun, and Explosions: Engineering Schemes for the Transformation of Desert Environments"

- Philipp Lehmann, Harvard University

Over the last few years, the name Desertec has been prominent in newspaper articles and television programs about the future of the world’s energy supply. Desertec, aimed at (among other things) producing massive amounts of energy by covering part of the Sahara’s surface with so-called “concentrated solar-thermal power plants”, is noteworthy not only because of its vast size and even greater ambition, but also because of its lesser-known long ancestry in projects that reach back to the period of High Imperialism. Read more »



'White Coal': Alpine Water and Power at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

- Marc Landry, Georgetown University

At the turn of the twentieth century in Europe energy enthusiasts frequently referred to hydroelectricity as "white coal", a power source they believed had the potential to rival fossil fuels in significance. Whether one referred to houille blanche, weisse Kohle, or carbone bianco, white coal was a traditional energy source—water power—whose exploitation was believed to have been revolutionized by advances in electrical engineering. Read more »




Dozens or Chaldrons: Units of Sale and Fuel Relationships in England, 1750-1830

- David Zylberberg, York University

In 1800, people living in different communities in the West Riding of Yorkshire purchased coal by the dozen, corf, load, cart load, chaldron, bushel or sack. These units were not local anachronisms but reflected the geographic relationship of each community to its fuel supply prior to the development of an integrated national market in the mid-nineteenth century. Read more »



The ‘Man Equivalent Day’ in China: Missionary and Chinese Researchers and Measurements of Human Labor Energy.

- Joe Lawson, Academia Sinica.

This paper explores conceptualizations and measurements of human labor inputs in Chinese agriculture in the research of American missionaries and Chinese social scientists in the first half of the twentieth century. It argues that measurements of human labor energy were shaped by researchers’ understandings of what was good for individuals and their communities, as well as the imposition of new state levies.

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Fuel Famine: The Spectre of Scarcity in Interwar Japan

- Victor Seow, Harvard University

Japan's modern experience has been marked by concerns over access to energy.  In the aftermath of the recent disaster in Fukushima, we witness not only a reexamination of the island nation's reliance on nuclear power, but also a resurgence of anxieties surrounding its lack of resources for alternative energy forms.  But such is not merely a problem of the here and now, and similar fears, spoken in terms such as "fuel famine," were alive and well from the early decades of the twentieth century.

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Cold War Japan: A Tale of Two Atoms

- Shi-Lin Loh, Harvard University

"How could the Japanese have embraced nuclear energy after Hiroshima and Nagasaki?" In response to this question, which has often been asked after Fukushima 3.11, I argue that within Japanese society, a new wave of discourse on nuclear physics and its potential applications for society in the early postwar period emerged. I term this vein of thinking "atoms of science" and here show how this dovetailed neatly with a contemporaneously-designed U.S. framework of "atoms for peace," revolving around a landmark 1953 address by President Eisenhower to the United Nations, which Japanese policymakers subsequently embraced.

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A dense column of smoke rises more than 60,000 feet into the air over the Japanese port of Nagasaki.” (From:National Archives (online): 208-N-43888.Vessels of Airy Death: Assembling Men, Bombers, and Bombs into Weapons of Mass Destruction

- Jeremy Zallen, Harvard University

When Bock's Car, the name of the B-29 bomber that dropped the plutonium bomb "Fat Man" over Nagasaki, struggled into the sky in the middle of the night, the 5-ton bomb was already making itself felt. The plane barely cleared the runway and it was guzzling fuel at a much higher rate than normal. To make things worse, one of the two fuel tanks was malfunctioning and a series of delayed rendezvouses meant even more fuel consumed. By the time Bock's Car reached the primary target of Kokura, it was already apparent that they would have to land in Okinawa instead of Iwo Jima as planned. It is an oft overlooked fact, but Kokura was saved that day by the weather.

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