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Before Big Oil: A Political History of Britain's Fossil Transition, 1760-1850


Fredrik Albritton Jonsson

This talk proposes a fundamentally new interpretation of Britain's fossil energy transition during the "Industrial Revolution" from the late eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries. Professor Albritton Jonsson will discuss how canal infrastructure, the deep mine, and the iron industry specifically provided the material basis for this transformation. He will also show the role canal legislation in particular played in prioritizing coal as the driver of urban growth, and how the economic and military priorities of providing national self-sufficiency in energy protected and won a privileged status for the iron and coal industry. Finally, "Before Big Oil" will explore the ways in which the new science of geology produced an evangelical cosmology of coal and promoted a cornucopian understanding of the mineral endowment. Lunch will be provided. Fredrik Albritton Jonsson is Associate Professor of History and of Conceptual and Historical Studies in Science at the University of Chicago. He is the author of Enlightenment's Frontier: The Scottish Highlands and the Origins of Environmentalism and, with Vicky Albritton, Green Victorians: The Simple Life in John Ruskin's Lake District. This event is part of the Energy Research Seminar Series sponsored by the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability at Duke University. Subscribe to the Nicholas Institute's email list at to learn about more events like this one.


Business, Climate, Energy, Europe focus, Lecture/Talk, Natural Sciences, Politics, Sustainability