I am currently working on four major research projects relating to the water and climate histories of Australia and the Indian Ocean:
A Thirsty Empire: Climate and Water in the British Indian Ocean World, 1853-1947
During the long nineteenth century, India, the Cape Colony and the Australian colonies served as important laboratories for environmental ideas and practices that could be transferred across the Indian Ocean. This project will analyse the trajectory of this environmental traffic to reassess the development of colonial understandings of the Australian environment, particularly its climates and waters, and the interventions and aspirations that these understandings produced. Examining colonial Australia in terms of these imperial webs of environmental connections will broaden perspectives on Australian history and illuminate the ways in which the Australian environment continues to bear the legacies of empire. This research is funded by the Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (2016, 18-19). This research is also funded by the 2016 Allan Martin Award of the Australian Historical Association, a KCL Australian Bicentennial Fellowship, and a Carl Friedrich von Siemens Research Fellowship of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation at the Rachel Carson Center, LMU, Munich.
Water and the Making of Urban Australia since 1900
With Andrea Gaynor, Lionel Frost, Jenny Gregory, Martin Shanahan and Peter Spearritt, I am working to produce new understandings of both the historical drivers of today’s urban water systems, and how these systems have impacted on human and ecological welfare. This will be achieved through the first integrated and comparative historical study of the provision, use and cultures of water in Australia’s five largest cities from 1900 to the present. Such historical knowledge is critical at a time when the water systems of Australia’s largest cities are under growing pressure from environmental change and population growth. Project findings will inform the development of policies and practices that produce sustainable, equitable urban water systems. This research is funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Project (2018-20).
Looking for the Leeuwin: an environmental history of the Leeuwin Current
At 5,500km in length, the Leeuwin Current is the longest continuous coastal current in the world. Originating at the North West Cape of Australia, it flows southwards along the west coast before curling eastward around Cape Leeuwin and flowing to Tasmania. The Leeuwin Current influences weather patterns over Western Australia and plays a critical role in the breeding cycle of the western rock lobster. ‘Looking for the Leeuwin’ examines the development of scientific interest in the Leeuwin Current from the late nineteenth century, and explores the different forms of expertise that engaged in these studies. During this period, the fields of oceanography, fisheries, and meteorology produced both competing and complementary geographical imaginaries of the workings of the eastern Indian Ocean, its fruits, and its influence on land-based endeavours. In addition to examining these geographical imaginaries, I explore the geographies and networks of knowledge that informed their development, from local fishers and colonial meteorologists to the national and international research bodies that gained ascendancy in the late twentieth century. Finally, I consider the ways in which particular economic, political and ecological priorities sustained and contained particular geographical imaginaries of the coastal waters of the Australian continent.
The Anthropocene in the Antipodes
Focusing particularly on Oceania or the Pacific Islands, as well as Australia and New Zealand, this project reviews the concept of the Anthropocene through the environmental histories and histories of science of the Southern Hemisphere. Bringing together the diverse ecological and human histories of this vast region highlights the strikingly different ways that the Global South and Global North have contributed to and experienced planetary change. Until the 1970s, the southern hemisphere remained largely absent from scientific considerations of the planetary impacts of human activity. Although the International Geophysical Year had been a boon for Antarctic exploration, the Pacific and Indian Oceans remained ‘embarrassingly unknown’ south of the equator nearly a decade later. This project has two parts: 1) the study of the processes of imperialism and capitalism in the Indo-Pacific from the eighteenth century; 2) an examination of the the role of Australian climatologists and meteorologists in advancing the state of knowledge about the causes and mechanisms of climatic change and variability in the Southern Hemisphere.