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Patrick Anthony

I am a historian of science and the environment in central Europe interested in the relationship between working and knowing.

My dissertation, under the supervision of David Blackbourn, is titled “Nature’s Working Worlds: Science, Industry, and Environment in the Time of Alexander von Humboldt, ca. 1770 – ca. 1860.” My research has been published in journals such as Isis, Centaurus, the Journal of the History of Ideas, and the Historical Journal. To read more about my research, please visit:

Currently I am guest editor of the Special Issue “Working at the Margins: Labor and the Politics of Participation in Natural History, 1700-1830,” forthcoming in Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte — History of Science and Humanities, in June 2021.

My dissertation project re-writes the history of Humboldt’s “global physics” as a history of the labor that sustained its system of inquiry in mines and atop mountains—the hewers, foremen, surveyors, draftsmen, guides, porters, and fellow technicians and travelers long enveloped by the sprawling category of “Humboldtian science.” Tracing the relationship between working and knowing over the course of Humboldt’s long life, it shows how the social organization of his science adapted to existing labor regimes in cameralist, colonial, and capitalist contexts. Practicing science within cultures of “useful knowledge” that spanned the Atlantic around 1800, Humboldt often emphasized his proximity to, not distance from, men of practical experience. This was an age in which territorial administration and resource use were constitutive of natural inquiry and early environmental thought. Franconian mine foremen and Creole surveyors played an especially vital role in Humboldt’s early geographic projects. Gradually, though, Humboldt’s appeals to the practical utility of his science, and the visibility of laborers within it, tended to diminish, keeping pace with the separation of workers from the means of production in the factories that sprang up around him in mid-century Berlin. Ways of working were abstracted into ways of knowing.


My dissertation research was awarded the Nathan Reingold Prize from the History of Science Society and funded by the Social Science Research Council, the German-American Fulbright Commission, and the State Library of Berlin.