Ours Is the Earth: Science and Human History in the Anthropocene

In: Journal of the Philosophy of History
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  • 1 Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard UniversityCambridge, MAUS
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History at one time drew unproblematically on records produced by human societies about themselves and their doings. Advances in biology and the earth sciences introduced new narrative resources that repositioned the human story in relation to the evolution of all else on the planet, thereby decentering earlier conceptions of time, life, and human agency. This essay reflects on what it means for our understanding of the human that the history of our species has become so intimately entangled with the material processes that make up the biosphere, while concurrently the temporal horizon of our imagination has been stretched forward and back, underscoring the brevity of human existence in relation to earthly time. I suggest that, despite significant changes in the resources with which we can rethink the human condition, drawing upon the sciences, history’s fundamental purposes have not been rendered irrelevant. These center, as before, on the normative project of connecting past and future in ways that make sense of human experience and give meaning to it. In particular, the question of how humans should imagine the stewardship of the Earth in the Anthropocene remains an ethical project for history and not primarily the domain of the natural sciences.

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