NYU Gallatin (Room 801), 1 Washington Place, New York
What don’t we know? Why don’t we know it? These questions have guided histories of science since Robert Proctor and Londa Schiebinger placed them at the heart of their 2008 volume Agntology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance. Here, ignorance is not simply a lack of knowledge, but the product of social relations. While a particularly useful analytical lens in studies of regulated industries in the 20th century (think lead and tobacco), ignorance is notoriously challenging to identify in primary sources: after all, the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. A relatively new method of data interpretation, macroanalysis, can address this issue, supporting the development of agnotology as a line of historical inquiry. Macroanalysis combines “close” reading of documents with a computer-assisted or “distant” reading of those same materials. By toggling between these perspectives, scholars can better isolate ignorance in space and time, identifying who knew what when and through what channels of information. In this talk, I tease out the implications of this concept and methodology through the case of drilling for Arctic oil in the 1970s. Drawing on recently declassified sources from the Canadian federal government and the oil and gas industry, this talk explores how studies of ignorance help explain the shape of corporate social responsibility campaigns, research agendas in the natural sciences, environmental movements, and energy politics in North America at the end of the 1900s.
Andrew Stuhl is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Humanities at Bucknell University. He teaches environmental history, history of ecology, environmental humanities, and Arctic studies.