I am currently developing two book projects. The first, Nature’s Working World, reimagines Humboldtian science as a collective enterprise whose system of inquiry in mines and atop mountains was sustained by the labors of miners, technicians, military surveyors, and many more. By taking a “labor history of science” approach to the savant-explorer Alexander von Humboldt, the book understands his combined study of climate and physical geography as the fruits of a productive alliance between industrial policy and territorial administration in three very different aggrandizing states, from Prussia to Mexico and Siberia. Crucially, that science also tended to obscure the working and ecological relations on which it relied, even as it yielded an integrated conception of the natural world in Humboldt’s Kosmos.
The second project, Artisans in the Mountains, reconstructs the lifeworlds of highland families—blacksmiths, cobblers, and wainwrights by trade—who established dynastic mountain-guiding and naturalia-collecting enterprises from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Ranging from the Harz Mountains to Franconia and the Bernese Oberland, this project seeks to understand how the interests of learned, lowland naturalists combined with the enterprise of rural, artisan families to produce something altogether new, an economy of knowledge I call the “upland exchange.” This project therefore centers village life in the history of the natural sciences, showing how the conditions of possibility for much geo-theory and natural history collection emerged within highland communities.