Prof. Dr. Frank Uekötter
Chair for the History of Technology and Environmental History
Department of History
Gebäude GA 4/54, Fachnr. 182
I studied history, political science and the social sciences at the universities of Freiburg and Bielefeld in Germany and the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore (USA). While working on my dissertation, I spent the Spring of 1999 in Pittsburgh working with Joel Tarr of Carnegie Mellon University. I earned, or at any rate was awarded, a Ph.D. from Bielefeld University in 2001, where I continued to work for several years. Among other things, I organized a conference on the environmental history of Nazi Germany for the German ministry for the environment and spent some time at the German Historical Institute in Washington DC in 2005.
I moved to Munich in 2006, helped by a generous Dilthey grant from the Volkswagen Foundation. I taught at Munich’s Ludwig Maximilian University and was among the founding fathers of the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, an institute for advanced studies in the environmental humanities run in collaboration by Munich University and the Deutsches Museum. It is during these years that I realized that environmental history, in addition to being an exciting field of historical scholarship, holds a huge potential for ongoing environmental debates. I also moved beyond my primary focus on German and U.S. history towards more global perspectives on the past.
I left Germany in 2013 and joined the history department at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. I began to work on an environmental history of the modern world and finished it against all odds. During my time in Britain, I have received fellowships from the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, the Deutsches Museum in Munich and the Centre for Apocalyptic and Post-Apocalyptic Studies at Heidelberg University. In 2021 I received an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council for my project “The Making of Monoculture: A Global History” (MaMoGH). I joined Ruhr University Bochum in June 2023.
For my full cv, please click here.
I work on the bare necessities of life: the food we eat, the energy we consume, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the raw materials that underpin the world of modern technology. We usually take it for granted in Western post-war societies that these things are cheap and abundant, but that situation is exceptional: for most of human history, stuff was precious, scarce, and the cause of endless conflicts. Historians tend to be negligent about these essentials in an age of abundance, but that is a Eurocentric perspective. In the Global South, a history without material stuff never made much sense.
I am professor for the history of technology and environmental history, which means in technical terms that I work in two distinct branches of our historical profession. However, I am less than excited about the tribalism of academic scholarship, and I prefer to call myself a professor of general history who just happens to work more on environmental and technological issues than others. My work touches on many issues that are of interest for scholars from the entire spectrum of historical research and beyond: democracy, social inequality, capitalism, social movements, expertise, material flows. We need a big canvas if we want to bring technological and environmental challenges into the mainstream of historical research.