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Geology and world politics: mineral resource appraisals as tools of geopolitical calculation, 1919-1939

Geologie und Weltpolitik: Rohstoffschätzungen als Instrumente geopolitischen Kalküls, 1919-1939
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Westermann, Andrea

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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.
Keywords geopolitics; world order; raw material deposits; preserving natural resources; natural resources; commodity policy; globalization; industrialization; international relations; technocracy; mining; historical development
Classification General History; Natural Science and Engineering, Applied Sciences; International Relations, International Politics, Foreign Affairs, Development Policy
Free Keywords history of the earth sciences
Document language English
Publication Year 2015
Page/Pages p. 151-173
Journal Historical Social Research, 40 (2015) 2
Issue topic Climate and beyond: knowledge production about the earth as a signpost of social change
ISSN 0172-6404
Status Published Version; peer reviewed
Licence Creative Commons - Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works