Friday 14 April 2023
11.00 - 13.00
Past Futures II: an Institutional Perspective on Temporality and Future Practice(s), 16th – 20th Centuries
Victoriagatan 13, Victoriasalen
Tilman Haug :
‘Nothing of its kind has ever appeared before in the World’ – Financial Projects, Lotteries and the Construction of Economic Futures in Early Eighteenth-century Germany
Elisabeth Heijmans, Jeroen Puttevils
Early modern projectors are known to have employed refined rhetorical and visual strategies to outline ‘imaginary futures’ (Jens Beckert), evocations of particularly desirable future economic or social states of affairs, towards a broader public or towards specific political and bureaucratic decision-makers to motivate decisions in their favor. Projectors often utilized ... (Show more)
Early modern projectors are known to have employed refined rhetorical and visual strategies to outline ‘imaginary futures’ (Jens Beckert), evocations of particularly desirable future economic or social states of affairs, towards a broader public or towards specific political and bureaucratic decision-makers to motivate decisions in their favor. Projectors often utilized imageries of unprecedented social and economic progress and development brought about by human invention and agency, often antedating notions of ‘open futures’ that became prevalent during the ‘Sattelzeit’ of the late 18th century.
Analyzing proposals for financial projects to the court of Saxony during the early 18th century my paper will take a closer look on how projectors used pragmatic and variable strategies of ‘constructing’ economic futures as well as how they were discussed and evaluated by politicians, bureaucrats or learned actors at court and at the fiscal administration in their respective epistemic and communicational settings. I will elaborate on the conflicting notions, ‘languages’ and techniques of assessing and referring to economic futures that can be these projects and how they interacted with one another in these contexts.
My paper will firstly take a nuanced look at the rhetoric and the visual media utilized by projectors. Following the example of an intricate ‘perpetual Capital lottery’ presented at the court of Saxony during the 1720s. I will outline how projectors utilized visual media in praising their inventions as vehicles to achieve unprecedented economic growth and to actively reshape the economy of a territory through innovative financial instruments. However, in the wake of the downfall of both the Mississippi and the South Sea Companies in 1720, projectors also preemptively addressed the general mistrust towards a contemporary culture of projecting and sought to reconcile their narratives of a transformative economic future with past experiences of abject failure with similar projects. Projectors therefore also fashioned more conditional and opportunistic versions of these imaginary futures or framed their vision as ‘emulation’ of existing particularly Dutch and French role models.
Second, I will show how these projects were evaluated in specific political and administrative spaces of communication, oftentimes in conflict with projectors, on the one hand by commissioned economic experts who claimed a mastery of a mathematical and probabilistic forecasting that enabled them to debunk grandiose visions and promises marking their social status as indispensable advisors to the prince. Inquiring into the future prospects and consequences of projects also promoted a specific type of cameralist economic prognosis based on knowledge of a territory’s specific economic and historical contexts, resources and geographical spaces that was sketched out by the Saxon counsellor and economist Paul Jacob Marperger who lobbied the court for the institution of a ‘commerce deputation’ headed by himself. In this case the promise of institutionalized certain knowledge of economic futures regarding projects was very much part of how a cameralist and projector fashioned out his own rhetoric of ‘imagined futures’. (Show less)
Jamie Pietruska :
“Weather is the Nation’s Business”: Public Good, Private Enterprise, and Epistemic Authority in U.S. Weather and Hurricane Forecasting
This paper examines how the epistemic authority of weather forecasting is produced. It focuses on the historical context of U.S. weather forecasting as both public good and private enterprise in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, offering a comparison to hurricane forecasting in the 2018 to 2021 seasons. ... (Show more)
This paper examines how the epistemic authority of weather forecasting is produced. It focuses on the historical context of U.S. weather forecasting as both public good and private enterprise in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, offering a comparison to hurricane forecasting in the 2018 to 2021 seasons. During the mid to late nineteenth century, national weather services emerged in Europe and the United States to introduce short-term government forecasts as a public good. In late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century United States, the epistemic authority of short-term government forecasting was contested in the context of competition with the commercial success of myriad individual private long-range forecasters. The US federal government’s “war on the weather prophets” took place on multiple fronts: public good vs. private profit, short-term vs. long-range temporalities, and infrastructural vs. individual. How to convince the public to trust in a federal bureaucracy and an anonymous meteorological infrastructure, rather than charismatic individual weather forecasters, posed a significant challenge for the U.S. national weather service in its early history.
This historical question of how to convince the public to trust in a predictive knowledge infrastructure remains urgent in the rapidly accelerating climate crisis of the twenty-first century, as the second part of this paper will explore. During the twentieth century, U.S. weather forecasting became increasingly commercialized, with a postwar boom in consulting meteorology laying the groundwork for corporations like AccuWeather and The Weather Company to repackage government weather data and generate revenues exceeding $100 million per year. In the twenty-first century, U.S. weather forecasting as a public good faces unprecedented threats, including a boom in new weather forecasting start-ups that use algorithms, models, and AI to customize hyper-local forecasts for clients across the economy, the potential of new 5G wireless networks to disrupt frequencies used by weather satellites and compromise the accuracy of weather forecasting, and the recent politicizing and undermining of federal weather agencies’ authority under the Trump administration, all during a time when public trust in government is at historic lows in the United States. As climate- and weather-related disasters have become more frequent and more costly, the forecasts and warnings of the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) are even more significant in the lives of millions of residents living in coastal and flood-prone areas. Meteorologists and researchers at the NHC and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) continue to assess the value of their forecasts and modify their products to better communicate risk and uncertainty to the public.
The value of objective government weather forecasts as a public good—and the danger to life and property of a lack thereof—is increasingly evident as weather-related risks continue to intensify during our climate crisis. This paper combines historical analysis of the epistemic authority of weather forecasting after the founding of the U.S. national weather service with present-day examples of hurricane forecasting to conceptualize weather forecasting as a public good and public infrastructure made even more vital by the twenty-first-century market logics of our meteorological futures. (Show less)
Joris van Eijnatten, Pim Huijnen :
Something Happened to the Future (2). Reconstructing Temporalities in Dutch newspapers, 1750-1990
In a previous article (published in Contributions to the History of Concepts 16/2 2021, 52-82) we analyzed the manner in which the experience and conceptualization of the future changed in Dutch parliamentary speech between 1814 and 2018. Over the whole period we encountered three different arguments concerning the future: (a) ... (Show more)
In a previous article (published in Contributions to the History of Concepts 16/2 2021, 52-82) we analyzed the manner in which the experience and conceptualization of the future changed in Dutch parliamentary speech between 1814 and 2018. Over the whole period we encountered three different arguments concerning the future: (a) ignorance about the future, (b) influence on or control over the future, and (c) loss of faith concerning the ability to mould the future. The latter argument came powerfully to the fore during the final quarter of the twentieth century. Over several decades, the notion of the ‘future’ transformed from something unknown but principally predictable into a synonym for change itself. Ultimately, for (Dutch) politicians, unpredictability became the future's defining trait. This general experience of time as uncontrollable was reflected in strong denials of the future’s ‘makeability’ as well as in changes in the meaning of terms like ‘development’, ‘scenario’ and, indeed, ‘change’ itself. Rather than speak about one future for mankind, the future was “de-singularized” into multiple, individual futures, reflecting an attempt to keep small and concrete risks under control. Future time seemed to have lost the directionality it used to have.
In this paper we intend to test the outcome sketched above, which was based solely on political speech, against a massive corpus of historical newspapers. Given the different nature of the source material, we expect to find more varied usages of the ‘future’ in newspapers. We will use the same quantitative methods, which include raw frequencies of a range of n-grams (a string of consecutive words), n-gram productivity (the number of ways consecutive words occur in n-grams over specific time intervals) and word embeddings (a way of examining the behaviour of specific words in the context of other words). In addition, we will try out alternative approaches to tracing conceptual change, including an analysis of trends in time frames (in terms of years) that newspapers used to conceptualize the future. For example, how far into the future were newspapers willing to look? Was their horizon five years, ten years or fifty years, and how did this change in the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries? (Show less)