Brain Power

Catherine Malabou, “The Brain of History, or, the Mentality of the Anthropocene,” South Atlantic Quarterly 116:1 (2017), 39–53 (preprint, here)

Malabou’s penetrating essay begins with the seeming antithesis between Dipesh Chakrabarty and Daniel Lord Smail. Chakrabarty and Smail both propose powerfully innovative ways of thinking about deep history that have masses to contribute to discussions of the Anthropocene. The apparent contrast between them is that Chakrabarty is on the side of the geological, and Smail on the side of the biological—or more specifically, the neurological. Malabou’s aim is to undo and recast that antithesis. Continue reading “Brain Power”

Period of Debate

Erle Ellis, Mark Maslin, Nicole Boivin and Andrew Bauer, “Involve social scientists in defining the Anthropocene,” Nature 540 (December 2016), 192–193

Jan Zalasiewicz, Colin Waters and Martin J. Head, “Anthropocene: its stratigraphic basis,” Nature 541 (January 2017), 289

Karen L. Bacon and Graeme T. Swindles, “Could a potential Anthropocene mass extinction define a new geological period?” Anthropocene Review 3:3 (2016), 208–17

Philip L. Gibbard and John Lewin, “Partitioning the Quaternary,” Quaternary Science Reviews 151 (2016), 127–39

Last week’s paper is the most systematic recent contribution to the debate about the Anthropocene’s stratigraphic formalization. Here’s a round-up of a few others. Continue reading “Period of Debate”

New Papers from the Anthropocene Working Group (part 5)

Jan Zalasiewicz et al., “Making the case for a formal Anthropocene Epoch: an analysis of ongoing critiques,” Newsletters on Stratigraphy 50:2 (2017)

What’s been needed to move forward the debate about formalizing the Anthropocene epoch as a new entry in the official Geologic Time Scale? A paper exactly like this one. Over the last five years a string of papers have been published critiquing the Anthropocene as a geological concept. They’ve contained substantive arguments and weaker arguments; they’ve added to and overlapped with one another. In this paper, the AWG members (with one notable additional contributor) systematise and respond to those critiques. It’s invaluable, clarifying work. Continue reading “New Papers from the Anthropocene Working Group (part 5)”

The Rhythms of History

The blog is still in hibernation for now. But here’s a short piece I wrote for the UC Press blog about the 2017 American Historical Association conference.

The American Historical Association’s annual conference begins in Denver on January 5. The panel I’d most like to go to is no. 142, “The Anthropocene in History,” chaired by John McNeill. (I wrote about Prof. McNeill’s most recent book here.) Being used to more modestly sized British conferences, I’ve never seen an academic conference panel take place in a ballroom, as the programme claims this one will. Continue reading “The Rhythms of History”


In Britain, the common hedgehog goes into hibernation at just about this time of year. Its body temperature will drop (Hugh Warwick writes) by some 25°C; its heart will slow to five beats a minute; it can go for an hour between breaths. In the case of erinaceus, however, hibernation is triggered not by the cold but by the demands of the academic calendar. In other words, I’m putting the blog on hold until the spring because I’m busy with teaching. Expect a new series of weekly posts to begin next May. Continue reading “Hibernation”

Five Maxims

Throughout this blog so far I’ve stayed pretty close to the arguments I made in The Birth of the Anthropocene. But in each post up till now I’ve also tried to add something new, rather than just reprising what I’ve already said in print. Since this will be the penultimate post on Made Ground this year, though, it seems a good opportunity to give a more explicit summary of the book itself. If you haven’t read The Birth of the Anthropocene but you’d like to know what its argument is, for the purpose of citation, disagreement, or mere curiosity, this post is for you…  Continue reading “Five Maxims”