• Link to Appadurai: the rise of global warming as a rhetorical paradigm in the 80’s/90’s tied to questions of globalization and the idea of picturing the “globe” more generally.
  • The changing climate dispels the idea that the environment is simply a backdrop to the human story: human history is now natural history. This is a similar claim to Peters: it no longer makes sense to cordon off knowledges in deeply intertwined systems.
  • Chakrabarty wants to construe climate change as a species-level problem. But is it possible for us to act as a coordinated species? What political structures would that require?


Citation (list the author, title, and year of publication):

— Chakrabarty, Dipesh. “The Climate of History: Four Theses.” Critical Inquiry, vol. 35, no. 2, winter 2009, pp. 197–222.

Intellectual Problem (state the question being answered or relationship/confusion being investigated):

— How has the planetary climate crisis challenged our understanding of what constitutes “history”? How do we read such a history out of the “overlapping processes” of “globalization and global warming” (200)?

Key Concepts (name up to 3 terms that the author invented or employed and offer definitions):

  1. “Anthropogenic climate change,” the assertion that global temperatures are rising, oceans are growing more acidic, and a variety of other tectonic shifts in the planetary climate are occurring directly out of human activity since (or even before) industrialization.
  2. “Anthropocene,” a term arising from geology as a period following the Holocene; “the New Geological Epoch When Humans Exist as a Geological Force” (207); also used in humanist circles as a general synecdoche for the present crisis.

Thesis Statement (quote 1-2 sentences that best encapsulate the main thesis/argument):

— “Yet climate change poses for us a question of a human collectivity, an us, pointing to a figure of the universal that escapes our capacity to experience the world. It is more like a universal that arises from a shared sense of catastrophe. It calls for a global approach to politics without the myth of a global identity, for, unlike a Hegelian universal, it cannot subsume particularities” (222).

Secondary ideas (summarize up to 5 pieces of supporting evidence):

  1. Thesis 1: The anthropogenic reality of climate change challenges a humanist/Enlightenment distinction between man and nature. This goes further than even mid-20th century acknowledgements that human history is indeed natural history, but that the of natural history is too vast and progresses too slowly to be much of an impact on human life (204), but rather demonstrates how the two histories are in fact conjoined and immediately producing each other.
  2. Thesis 2: Framing the anthropocene as an historical period challenges notions of modernity and globalization, as distinctions between place, time, racial/ethnic group, colonizer/colonized all collapse into one massive group: the anthropo-. While we must still attend to the situatedness of our specific environments, new solutions to these problems require thinking a “global, collective life” in ways that both challenge nationalist and postcolonialist thinking (210).
  3. Thesis 3: “Global histories of capital” must now be thought alongside our “species history” (212). Indeed, such a reframing asks us to understand the human animal as a species, rather than as a special category of being. Thinking human-as-species requires a “longer view” than historians generally deploy, and Chakrabarty asks historians and academics more generally to “rise above their disciplinary prejudices” in thinking longer, less comfortable time s (215).
  4. Thesis 4: The climate crisis “can thus produce affect and knowledge about collective human pasts and futures that work at the limits of historical understanding” (221). There may be things that emerge from considering the climate crisis that history is ill-equipped to analyze, or even articulate. Given that “the wall between human and natural history has been breached,” old ways of historical understanding are no longer sufficient, and as such we’ll need to articulate “an emergent, new universal history of humans that flashes up in the moment of the danger that is climate change” (221).

Theoretical Foundations (list up to 3 theorists that the author relies on, explicitly or implicitly, and state what each offers the argument):

  1. Giovanni Arrighi, Italian historian, whose move towards “the question of ecological limits to capitalism” over the last twenty years mirrors Chakrabarty’s own shift as an historian, and informs this article’s enmeshing of historical and Marxist studies of capital with scientific research (199–200).
  2. The 2007 Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the United Nations—which I cite as a stand-in for the ways that much of Chakrabarty’s analysis draws not on traditional humanistic theory and history but rather scientific analysis and reports. This is a key methodological shift for Chakrabarty, as historians in the Anthropocene need to learn how to assimilate scientific knowledges into their work—and vice versa.

Theoretical Antagonists (list up to 3 theorists that the author responds against, explicitly or implicitly, and why):

  1. Traditional approaches to history (the “Viconian understanding”), which “have often displayed a tendency to separate human history . . . from natural history” (201). Chakrabarty’s approach is a self-conscious reframing of such approaches and a rejection of the “old” ways of doing history.

Implications (describe in 1-2 sentences the value, impact, or stakes of this text in cultural, political, ethical, or aesthetic terms):

— Chakrabarty’s essay forcefully reframes the work of history, and indeed of humanistic inquiry more generally, in the age of the climate crisis. In particular, it usefully models, in its engagement with scientific reports, new methodologies for doing history that might work towards new kinds of historical understanding—given that the climate crisis, in his view, is a categorical shift in our experience of the world and cannot be read with old tactics.