Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-78dcdb465f-cs4hf Total loading time: 0.365 Render date: 2021-04-15T00:15:29.421Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": false, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true }

The Anthropocene and the Time of Historians

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 March 2020

Grégory Quenet
Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, CHCSC-OVSQ


The notion of the Anthropocene has arrived so rapidly on the political and academic scene that it is sometimes difficult to orient oneself amid the mass of publications and events, or even to situate the different arguments presented. This article proposes to take a step back by examining the effects of this concept on historians’ notion of time. In the absence of a sociological and intellectual study providing a precise map of the actors and places involved, a genealogical approach can reveal a certain number of conceptual displacements that have occurred since the idea was first proposed. In particular, the passage from geological time to historical time has transformed the nature of the Anthropocene as event. Furthermore, the response of the humanities and social sciences has been critical, revealing the tension between the Anthropocene as a label and forum for discussion, and the Anthropocene as an analytical frame applied to empirical studies. Finally, while applying the notion of period to the Anthropocene poses a certain number of difficulties (teleology, the return to a Western-centered vision of the global, the synchronization of history, etc.), the pluralization of thresholds and temporal breaks appears to enrich the writing of history, opening up new avenues of research receptive to materiality and to non-human actors.

The Anthropocene
© Éditions EHESS 2019

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below.


This article was translated from the French by Katharine Throssell and edited by Chloe Morgan and Stephen Sawyer.


1 Geological time is divided into geochronological units, which are, in decreasing order of length: eons (the Phanerozoic is one of the four eons), eras (the Phanerozoic is divided into three eras, the Cenozoic, the Mesozoic, and the Paleozoic), periods (the Cenozoic is made up of three periods, the Paleogene, the Neogene, and the Quaternary), epochs (the Quaternary period is divided into two epochs, the Pleistocene and the Holocene), and ages (the Pleistocene is made up of four ages, the Gelasian, the Calabrian, the Middle Pleistocene, and the Upper Pleistocene). The international chronostratigraphic chart is updated and published on the website of the International Commission on Stratigraphy (

2 Anthropocene, created in September 2013, Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene, in December 2013, and The Anthropocene Review, in April 2014.

4 Monastersky, Richard, “Anthropocene: The Human Age,” Nature 519 (2015): 144–47CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed. In France, the Anthropocene appeared in 2016 textbooks for high-school students studying hospitality and catering science and technology (Bulletin officiel 11, March 17, 2016).

5 The presentation of the sixteen subcommissions is laid out on the website of the International Commission on Stratigraphy:

6 For the members of the Anthropocene Working Group, see:

7 The press release from the Anthropocene Working Group was published on the website of the University of Leicester, Jan Zalasiewicz’s institution: A kiloannum (ka) corresponds to one thousand years before the present.

8 See in particular an article that extensively cites these researchers: Damian Carrington, “The Anthropocene Epoch: Scientists Declare Dawn of Human-Influenced Age,” Guardian, August 29, 2016,

9 The cumulative dimension of knowledge can be seen between the two editions of Fernand Braudel’s The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World, in which he added a “Supplementary Note” to the chapter on the climate in order to include studies published between 1949 and 1966 by the English climatologist D. J. Schove, the French geologist Pierre Pédelaborde, the Swedish historian Gustav Utterström, and the French historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie: Schove, “Discussion: Post-Glacial Climatic Change,” Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society 75, no. 324 (1949): 175–79 and 181; Pédelaborde, Le climat du Bassin parisien. Essai d’une méthode rationnelle de climatologie physique (Paris: M. T. Genin, 1957); Utterström, “Climatic Fluctuations and Population Problems in Early Modern History,” Scandinavian Economic History Review 3, no. 1 (1955): 3–47; Ladurie, Le Roy, The Peasants of Languedoc [1966], trans. Day, John (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1976)Google Scholar. See Braudel, La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l’époque de Philippe II (Paris: Armand Colin, 1949), 230–35; and the second revised edition of 1966, pp. 249–62. The English translation was based on the second edition and includes this note: Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philippe II, trans. Siân Reynolds (London: Harper and Row, 1972–1973; repr. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995), 1:267–75.

10 Crutzen, Paul J. and Stoermer, Eugene F., “The ‘Anthropocene,’Global Change Newsletter 41 (2000): 1718Google Scholar.

11 Crutzen, Paul J., “Geology of Mankind,” Nature 415 (2002): 23CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed. For ice cores, see Petit, Jean-Robert et al., “Climate and Atmospheric History of the Past 420,000 Years from the Vostok Ice Core, Antarctica,” Nature 399 (1999): 429–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

12 Steffen, Will et al., “The Anthropocene: Conceptual and Historical Perspectives,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 369, no. 1938 (2011): 824–67CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed.

13 Ruddiman, William F., “The Anthropogenic Greenhouse Era Began Thousands of Years Ago,” Climatic Change 61, no. 3 (2003): 261–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Ruddiman, “How Did Humans First Alter Global Climate?” Scientific American 292, no. 3 (2005): 46–53; Ruddiman, Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005).

14 This was the definition of the Anthropocene given by Philippe Descola in an interview for the Collège de France:, before his thinking evolved toward an essential division between anthropization and Anthropocene: Descola, “Humain, trop humain,” Esprit 12 (2015): 8–22.

15 Zalasiewicz, Jan et al., “When Did the Anthropocene Begin? A Mid-Twentieth Century Boundary Level Is Stratigraphically Optimal,” Quaternary International 383 (2015): 196203CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

16 Waters, Colin N. et al., “Can Nuclear Weapons Fallout Mark the Beginning of the Anthropocene Epoch?Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 71, no. 3 (2015): 4657CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The radionuclide Cesium-137 (137Cs) and its spatial distribution in the South Atlantic Ocean allow us to document global radioactivity levels, demonstrating a peak in 1963: see de Lima Ferreira, Paulo Alves et al., “Using a Cesium-137 (137Cs) Sedimentary Fallout Record in the South Atlantic Ocean as a Supporting Tool for Defining the Anthropocene,” Anthropocene 14 (2016): 3435CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

17 Waters, Colin N. et al., “The Anthropocene Is Functionally and Stratigraphically Distinct from the Holocene,” Science 351, no. 6269 (2016): 206310CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed. On plastic as a specific marker, see Zalasiewicz, Jan et al., “The Geological Cycle of Plastics and Their Use as a Stratigraphic Indicator of the Anthropocene,” Anthropocene 13 (2016): 417CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

19 Lewis, Simon L. and Maslin, Mark A., “Defining the Anthropocene,” Nature 519 (2015): 171–80CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed.

20 Foley, Stephen F. et al., “The Palaeoanthropocene: The Beginnings of Anthropogenic Environmental Change,” Anthropocene 3 (2013): 8388CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Waters, “The Anthropocene Is Functionally and Stratigraphically Distinct.”

21 This vocabulary is not always used with the rigor that geological intervals imply. The Anthropocene is sometimes referred to as an era, period, or epoch, but is generally considered as the “age of humanity.”

22 Crutzen and Stoermer, “The ‘Anthropocene.’”

23 This expression seems to have been used for the first time by the historian of science Naomi Oreskes, to describe the alteration of the fundamental physical processes of the planet by anthropogenic climate change. See Oreskes, “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change: How Do We Know We’re Not Wrong?” in Climate Change: What It Means for Us, Our Children, and Our Grandchildren, ed. Joseph F. C. DiMento and Pamela Doughman (Cambridge: Mit Press, 2007), 93.

24 The meeting was initiated during the ninety-sixth Dahlem conference, “Integrated History and Future of People on Earth [IHOPE],” organized in Berlin in June 2005. See Costanza, Robert, Graumlich, Lisa J., and Steffen, Will, eds., Sustainability or Collapse? An Integrated History and Future of People on Earth (Cambridge: Mit Press, 2007Google ScholarPubMed).

25 McNeill, John R., Something New under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World (Penguin: London, 2000)Google Scholar.

26 Steffen, Will, Crutzen, Paul J., and McNeill, John R., “The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature?Ambio 36, no. 8 (2007): 614–21CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed. For a history of Earth System science, see Sébastien Dutreuil, “Gaïa: hypothèse, programme de recherche pour le système Terre ou philosophie de la nature?” (PhD diss., Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, 2016), 467–629.

27 Steffen, Will et al., eds., Global Change and the Earth System: A Planet under Pressure (Berlin: Springer, 2004)Google Scholar; Rockström, Johan et al., “A Safe Operating Space for Humanity,” Nature 461 (2009): 472–75CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed; Steffen et al., “Planetary Boundaries: Guiding Human Development on a Changing Planet,” Science 349, no. 6254 (2015): 1286–87.

28 Oreskes, Naomi and Conway, Erik M., Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (New York: Bloomsbury, 2010)Google Scholar.

29 Carol Boggs, “Human Niche Construction and the Anthropocene,” in “Whose Anthropocene? Revisiting Dipesh Chakrabarty’s ‘Four Theses,’” ed. Robert Emmett and Thomas Lekan, special issue, RCC Perspectives: Transformations in Environment and Society 2 (2016): 27–30.

30 Smith, Bruce D. and Zeder, Melinda A., “The Onset of the Anthropocene,” Anthropocene 4 (2013): 813CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

31 This is the argument developed in the public policy sphere by Sainteny, Guillaume, Le climat qui cache la forêt. Comment la question climatique occulte les problèmes d’environnement (Paris: Rue de l’échiquier, 2015)Google Scholar.

32 These analyses are based on John R. McNeill, “Energy, Population, and Environmental Change Since 1750: Entering the Anthropocene,” in The Cambridge World History, vol. 7, Production, Destruction and Connection, 1750–Present, part 1, Structures, Spaces and Boundary Making, ed. John R. McNeill and Kenneth Pomeranz (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 51–53.

33 In 2008, the IUGS and the International Commission on Stratigraphy asked the Anthropocene Working Group to write a report: Newsletter of the Anthropocene Working Group 4, 2013,

34 Lewis and Maslin, “Defining the Anthropocene,” 174.

35 Lori A. Ziolkowski, “The Geologic Challenge of the Anthropocene,” in Emmett and Lekan, “Whose Anthropocene?” 35–39.

36 Crutzen, “Geology of Mankind.” For the critique, see Hamilton, Clive, Earthmasters: The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013)Google Scholar.

37 On the reluctance of the social sciences to renounce this self-genesis of modernity, and the scientific need to do so, see Mauelshagen, Franz, “‘Anthropozän,’ Plädoyer für eine Klimageschichte des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts,” Zeithistorische Forschungen/Studies in Contemporary History 9 (2012): 131–37Google Scholar. On the political project and the conception of human rights, see Korzé, Louis J., “Human Rights and the Environment in the Anthropocene,” The Anthropocene Review 1, no. 3 (2014): 252–75Google Scholar. On human and material progress in relation to the metabolic thresholds of the transformation of nature, see Fischer-Kowalski, Marina, Krausmann, Fridolin, and Pallua, Irene, “A Sociometabolic Reading of the Anthropocene: Modes of Subsistence, Population Size and Human Impact on Earth,” The Anthropocene Review 1, no. 1 (2014): 833CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

38 Ferry, Luc, Le nouvel ordre écologique. L’arbre, l’animal et l’homme (Paris: Grasset, 1992)Google Scholar; Gauchet, Marcel, “Sous l’amour de la nature, la haine des hommes,” Le Débat 60, no. 3 (1990): 247–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

39 Mitchell, Timothy, Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil (Verso: London, 2011)Google Scholar.

40 This metaphor was proposed by Karlsson, Rasmus, “Three Metaphors for Sustainability in the Anthropocene,” The Anthropocene Review 3, no. 1 (2016): 2332CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

41 Aykut, Stefan C. and Dahan, Amy, Gouverner le climat? Vingt ans de négociations internationales (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2014)Google Scholar. This framework is seen as inappropriate for four reasons: the fiction of unity, which represents an apolitical vision of the world; the overly environmental reading of the climate issue, which places pollution at the end of the process; the illusion of a transformation that could be effected indirectly, for instance through the price of carbon, which implies depoliticizing the subject; and the illusion that an agreement on the scientific dimension would be enough to define a better management of the problem.

42 McNeill, “Energy, Population,” 51–82; McNeill, John R. and Engelke, Peter, “Into the Anthropocene: People and Their Planet,” in Global Interdependence: The World after 1945, ed. Iriye, Akira (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014), 365533Google Scholar. This chapter was subsequently published as a book, which removed it from its context: McNeill, John R. and Engelke, Peter, The Great Acceleration: An Environmental History of the Anthropocene since 1945 (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014)Google Scholar.

43 McNeill and Engelke, The Great Acceleration, 261.

44 Hornborg, Alf and Malm, Andreas, “The Geology of Mankind? A Critique of the Anthropocene Narrative,” The Anthropocene Review 1, no. 1 (2014): 6269Google Scholar. Among the examples of an antisocial vision of the anthropos, they cite Szerszynski, Bronislaw, “The End of the End of Nature: The Anthropocene and the Fate of the Human,” Oxford Literary Review 34 (2012): 165–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

45 Jessica Barnes, “Rifts or Bridges? Ruptures and Continuities in Human-Environment Interactions,” in Emmett and Lekan, “Whose Anthropocene?”; Sayre, Nathan F., “The Politics of the Anthropogenic,” Annual Review of Anthropology 41 (2012): 5770CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hulme, Mike, “Reducing the Future to Climate: A Story of Climate Determinism and Reductionism,” Osiris 26 (2011): 245–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

46 LeCain, Timothy J., “Against the Anthropocene: A Neo-Materialist Perspective,” HCM: International Journal for History, Culture and Modernity 3, no. 1 (2015): 128CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

47 It is difficult to make an exhaustive list of these propositions, one of the most recent being the anthropologist Cymene Howe’s “Betacene,” outlined in his “Introduction: Lexicon for an Anthropocene Yet Unseen,” Cultural Anthropology, January 21, 2016, The term “Trumpocene” appeared after the election of Donald Trump to refer to the possible effects of the United States’ rejection of efforts to minimize its impact on the climate: see Stéphane Foucart, “L’an I du Trumpocène,” Le Monde, November 15, 2016, p. 25.

48 Moore, Jason W., ed., Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism (Oakland: PM Press, 2016), xiGoogle Scholar. For the arguments against the Anthropocene, see Moore, “The Rise of Cheap Nature,” in ibid., 78–115, particularly p. 81. The conceptions of Moore and Malm have since substantially diverged, and they are now opposed in their definition of nature and their reading of the Marxist tradition: see Paul Gillibert and Stéphane Haber, eds., “Marxismes écologiques,” special issue, Actuel Marx 6, no. 11 (2017): 7–105.

49 Hornborg, Alf, “Ecological Economics, Marxism, and Technological Progress: Some Explorations of the Conceptual Foundations of Theories of Ecologically Unequal Exchange,” Ecological Economics 105 (2014): 1118CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Foster, John Bellamy and Holleman, Hannah, “The Theory of Unequal Ecological Exchange: A Marx-Odum Dialectic,” Journal of Peasant Studies 41, no. 2 (2014): 199233CrossRefGoogle Scholar. This approach, which considers that all human societies across the surface of the globe form a system whose elements interact with one another, is distinct from the Earth System of the Earth sciences which considers the planet from the point of view of the embeddedness of geophysical and living subsystems. The congruence between world-system and Earth System is one of the questions posed in debates on the Anthropocene.

50 Malm, Andreas, Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming (London: Verso, 2016), 165–94Google Scholar.

51 Haraway, Donna J., “Staying with the Trouble: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene,” in Moore, Anthropocene or Capitalocene? 3476Google Scholar; Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016).

52 Eileen Crist, “On the Poverty of Our Nomenclature,” in Moore, Anthropocene or Capitalocene? 14–33; Neyrat, Frédéric, La part inconstructible de la Terre. Critique du géo-constructivisme (Paris: Éd. du Seuil, 2016)Google Scholar; Pierre Charbonnier, “Constructivisme et urgence environnementale,” La vie des idées, May 10, 2016,

53 Haraway, Donna et al., “Anthropologists Are Talking—About the Anthropocene,” Ethnos 81, no. 3 (2016): 535–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

54 Grevsmühl, Sebastian V., La Terre vue d’en haut. L’invention de l’environnement global (Paris: Éd. du Seuil, 2014)Google Scholar.

55 Haraway et al., “Anthropologists Are Talking,” 540–41. On the religious aspect of the Anthropocene, see Lowenthal, David, “Origins of Anthropocene Awareness,” The Anthropocene Review 3, no. 1 (2016): 5263CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

56 Anna L. Tsing, “Feral Biologies” (paper given at the conference “Anthropological Visions of Sustainable Futures,” University College London, February 2015). On the beneficial role of species joining together, which is denied by the Anthropocene, see Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015), 19–25.

57 Gilbert develops this argument in the collective discussion led by Haraway, Donna J., “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin,” Environmental Humanities 6, no. 1 (2015): 159–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar, here p. 162.

58 On the emergence of these new fields of science which, like the “megascience” of the post-Second World War years, require substantial investment from states or international government alliances, see Dominique Pestre, “Savoirs et sciences de la Renaissance à nos jours. Une lecture de longue durée,” in Histoire des sciences et des savoirs, vol. 3, Le siècle des technosciences, depuis 1914, ed. Christophe Bonneuil and Dominique Pestre (Paris: Éd. du Seuil, 2015), 461–85, here pp. 468 and 480–82.

59 Romano, Antonella, “Making the History of Early Modern Science: Reflections on a Discipline in the Age of Globalization,” Annales HSS (English Edition) 70, no. 2 (2015): 307–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar, particularly pp. 316–21.

60 This position is explored in Lorimer, Jamie, “The Anthropo-scene: A Guide for the Perplexed,” Social Studies of Science 47, no. 1 (2017): 117–42CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed.

61 Francis Chateauraynaud et al., “Des risques globaux à la pluralité des anthropo-scènes. Logiques d’action et jeux d’échelles dans les sociologies de l’environnement,” a summary of the papers given at the international conference “Comment penser l’Anthropocène? Anthropologues, philosophes et sociologues face au changement climatique” (Paris, Collège de France, November 5–6, 2015),, p. 22.

62 Hornborg and Malm, “The Geology of Mankind?” 64; Bonneuil, Christophe and Fressoz, Jean-Baptiste, The Shock of the Anthropocene: The Earth, History and Us [2013], trans. Fernbach, David (London: Verso, 2016), 24, 27, and 119Google Scholar.

63 Haraway, “Anthropocene, Capitalocene,” 161.

64 Vincent, Julien, “Le climat de l’histoire et l’histoire du climat. À propos des ‘quatre thèses’ de Dipesh Chakrabarty,” La revue des livres 3 (2012): 2835Google Scholar.

65 Chakrabarty, Dipesh, “The Climate of History: Four Theses,” Critical Inquiry 35, no. 2 (2009): 197222CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

66 The first version of this article was published in 2008 in Bengali in the Kolkata-based journal Baromas.

67 Agarwal, Anil and Narain, Sunita, Global Warming in an Unequal World: A Case of Environmental Colonialism (New Delhi: Centre for Science and Environment, 1991)Google Scholar.

68 This argument is developed in detail in Chakrabarty, Dipesh, “Climate and Capital: On Conjoined Histories,” Critical Inquiry 41, no. 1 (2014): 123CrossRefGoogle Scholar, but it was present from his earliest work. On the importance of the question of demography, see Chakrabarty, “‘In the Name of Politics’: Democracy and the Power of the Multitude in India,” Public Culture 19, no. 51 (2007): 35–57, republished in Varieties of World-Making: Beyond Globalization, ed. Nathalie Karagiannis and Peter Wagner (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2007), 111–32.

69 This reading of Chakrabarty’s intellectual and political trajectory—a Voltairian strategy of shifting attention to the concept of history to better conceal the aporias of subalternist theories in the context of the Anthropocene—is markedly different from that which he presents himself (a rising awareness about the effects of climate change during his time in Australia in the 2000s, which distanced him from the rural and literary ideal of the Bengali educated middle class). It does however lead us to take his arguments about his dedication to the cause of dominated peoples and their capacity for action seriously. This awareness of the demographic issue sets him apart from other environmental readings of Marxism, focused on the system of production and appropriation, particularly those of Moore and Malm. See Chakrabarty, “Réécrire l’histoire depuis l’Anthropocène,” Actuel Marx 61, no. 1 (2017): 95–105.

70 For an introduction to the latter, see Christian, David, Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011)Google Scholar. For the former, see Smail, Daniel Lord and Shyrock, Andrew, “History and the ‘Pre,’American Historical Review 118, no. 3 (2013): 709–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

71 Steffen, Crutzen, and McNeill, “The Anthropocene: Are Humans,” 614–15.

72 Guillaume Calafat, review of Smail, Daniel Lord, On Deep History and the Brain (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008)Google Scholar, and Shyrock, Andrew and Smail, Daniel Lord, eds., Deep History: The Architecture of Past and Present (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011)Google Scholar, in Annales HSS 70, no. 2 (2015): 439–41; Mandressi, Rafael, “Le temps profond et le temps perdu. Usages des neurosciences et des sciences cognitives en histoire,” Revue d’histoire des sciences humaines 25, no. 2 (2011): 165202CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Calafat, “Introduction. Daniel Lord Smail et la ‘neuro-histoire,’” in “Traduire et introduire. Calveiro, Smail, Strathern,” ed. Olivier Allard, Guillaume Calafat, and Natalia La Valle, special issue, Tracés 14 (2014): 85–86.

73 The Annales recently published a thematic dossier based around an article by Armitage and Guldi summarizing the book’s propositions: “Debating the Longue Durée,” Annales HSS (English Edition) 70, no. 2 (2015): 215–303.

74 Guldi, Jo and Armitage, David, The History Manifesto (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 6566, 69–70, 84, and 86CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

75 Shyrock and Smail, Deep History, 102, 245–46, 250, and 255.

76 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Whose Anthropocene? A Response,” in Emmett and Lekan, “Whose Anthropocene?” 103–15; Wilson, Edward O., In Search of Nature (Washington: Island Press, 1996)Google Scholar; Chakrabarty, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998); Smail, On Deep History and the Brain.

77 Chakrabarty, “Climate and Capital,” 1.

78 Chakrabarty, “The Human Significance of the Anthropocene,” in Reset Modernity! ed. Bruno Latour and Christophe Leclerc (Cambridge: Mit Press, 2016), 189–99.

79 This was the opinion of the majority of the participants at the conference organized by the University of South Carolina and the Rachel Carson Center, which emphasized this point; see Emmett and Lekan, “Whose Anthropocene?” 66–67, 89–90, 92–94, 107, and 111.

80 This is the case when the Anthropocene is divided into pre-Anthropocene, Anthropocene 1, and Anthropocene 2; see Steffen, Crutzen, and McNeill, “The Anthropocene: Are Humans.”

81 Grégory Quenet, “Un nouveau champ d’organisation de la recherche, les humanités environnementales,” in Les humanités environnementales. Enquêtes et contre-enquêtes, ed. Guillaume Blanc, Élise Demeulenaere, and Wolf Feuerhahn (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 2017), 255–70.

82 Jouvenet, Morgan, “From Poles to Laboratories: Stages in International Cooperation in Palaeoclimatology (1955–2015),” Revue française de sociologie (English Edition) 57, no. 3 (2016): 392417Google Scholar.

83 The IGBP, which has not been updated since the end of the program in 2015, provides an initial perspective on these connections: See also the World Social Science Report 2013: Changing Global Environments (Paris: Unesco/Issc, 2013).

84 IHOPE was the acronym for the project to write an “Integrated History and Future of People on Earth.” An initial history was proposed by Robin, Libby and Steffen, Will, “History for the Anthropocene,” History Compass 5, no. 5 (2007): 1694–719CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

85 For a presentation of this new mode of knowledge production, see Gibbons, Michael et al., The New Production of Knowledge: The Dynamics of Science and Research in Contemporary Societies (London: Sage, 1994)Google Scholar.

86 In France, both of the research programs specifically dedicated to the Anthropocene were selected by the IDEX juries, which are interdisciplinary but marked by the hard sciences: “Politiques de la Terre à l’épreuve de l’Anthropocène,” based at the Université Sorbonne-Paris-Cité ( and “Humanités environnementales à l’épreuve de l’Anthropocène,” based at Paris Sciences et Lettres (

87 Bonneuil and Fressoz, The Shock of the Anthropocene. For the original French edition, with a slightly different contents list, see Bonneuil, Christophe and Fressoz, Jean-Baptiste, L’événement Anthropocène. La Terre, l’histoire et nous (Paris: Éd. du Seuil, 2013)Google Scholar.

88 Bonneuil and Fressoz, The Shock of the Anthropocene.

89 Ibid., 13, 67, and 107.

90 For the critique of this thesis, see the interview with Simon Schaffer, “Newton, les Sex Pistols et la pompe à air. L’histoire des sciences généralistes de Simon Schaffer (2/2),” Zilsel (2014):; Hamilton, Clive and Grinevald, Jacques, “Was the Anthropocene Anticipated?The Anthropocene Review 2, no. 1 (2015): 5972CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Latour, Bruno, Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climatic Regime [2015], trans. Porter, Catherine (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2017), 138Google Scholar.

91 Fischer-Kowalski, Marina and Haberl, Helmut, eds., Socioecological Transitions and Global Change: Trajectories of Social Metabolism and Land Use (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

92 Alain Guerreau, “Avant le marché, les marchés: en Europe, xiiiexviiie siècle (note critique),” Annales HSS 56, no. 6 (2001): 1129–75; Grenier, Jean-Yves, L’économie d’Ancien Régime. Un monde de l’échange et de l’incertitude (Paris: Albin Michel, 1996)Google Scholar.

93 Boltanski, Luc and Esquerre, Arnaud, Enrichissement. Une critique de la marchandise (Paris: Gallimard, 2017), 21107Google Scholar.

94 Hornborg, Alf, “Ecosystems and World Systems: Accumulation as an Ecological Process,” Journal of World-Systems Research 4, no. 2 (1998): 169–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hornborg, “Toward a Truly Global Environmental History: A Review Article,” Review: Journal of the Fernand Braudel Center 33, no. 4 (2010): 295–323.

95 On global anthropogenic changes and the synchronization of the world, see the conference “Synchronizing the World: Historic Times, Globalized Times, Anthropogenic Times” (University of Oslo, June 12–14, 2017),

96 Goff, Jacques Le, Must We Divide History into Periods? trans. DeBevoise, Malcolm B. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

97 Aside from this teleology, there are striking analogies with the figure of change proposed by the social history of growth and the beginning of modernity written from the 1950s to the 1970s. See Burguière, André, “Le changement social: brève histoire d’un concept,” in Les formes de l’expérience. Une autre histoire sociale, ed. Lepetit, Bernard (Paris: Albin Michel, 1995), 253–72Google Scholar. But whereas this form of social history constructed a dialogue between curves via the relation between structure and conjuncture, anthropocenic theses operate by establishing translation and equivalence between social and physical orders, or by opportunities for substitution.

98 On the winding paths that led to the prioritization of the social over nature, see Charbonnier, Pierre, La fin d’un grand partage. Nature et société, de Durkheim à Descola (Paris: Cnrs Éditions, 2015)Google Scholar.

99 Durkheim, Émile, The Division of Labor in Society [1893], trans. Halls, W. D. (New York: Free Press, 1984; repr. 2014), 196Google Scholar.

100 On the distinction from natural phenomena that are not immanent to history, see the arguments of Patrick Boucheron relating to the eruption of Kuwae in 1452: Boucheron, “Introduction. Les boucles du monde: contours du xve siècle,” in Histoire du monde au xv esiècle, ed. Patrick Boucheron (Paris: Fayard, 2009), 1:9–49, here pp. 9–25.

101 Stuart Chapin, F. et al., “Ecosystem Stewardship: Sustainability Strategies for a Rapidly Changing Planet,” Trends in Ecology and Evolution 25 (2010): 241–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Claussen, Martin et al., “Simulation of an Abrupt Change in Saharan Vegetation at the End of the Mid-Holocene,” Geophysical Research Letters 24 (1999): 2037–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Barnosky, Anthony D. et al., “Has the Earth’s Sixth Mass Extinction Already Arrived?Nature 471 (2011): 5157CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed; Folke, Carl et al., “Resilience Thinking: Integrating Resilience, Adaptability, and Transformability,” Ecology and Society 15, no. 4 (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, art. 20,; Lenton, Timothy M. et al., “Tipping Elements in the Earth’s Climate System,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 105 (2008): 1786–93CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed; Moberg, Frederik and Folke, Carl, “Ecological Services of Coral Reef Ecosystems,” Ecological Economics 29 (1999): 215–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Johan Rockström et al., “A Safe Operating Space”; Marten Scheffer et al., “Catastrophic Shifts in Ecosystems,” Nature 413 (2001): 591–96.

102 For a concise overview see Steffen, Will et al., “The Anthropocene: From Global Change to Planetary Boundary,” Ambio 40 (2011): 739–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

103 Costanza, Robert et al., “Sustainability or Collapse: What Can We Learn from Integrating the History of Humans and the Rest of Nature?Ambio 36 (2007): 522–27CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed.

104 For a presentation of this debate, see Mucchielli, Laurent, La découverte du social. Naissance de la sociologie en France, 1870–1914 (Paris: La Découverte, 1998), 269–76Google Scholar.

105 Tarde, Gabriel, “Le transformisme social,” Revue philosophique de la France et de l’étranger 40 (1895): 2640Google Scholar; Tarde, “L’idée de l’organisme social,” Revue philosophique de la France et de l’étranger 41 (1896): 637–46.

106 Simiand, François, “L’année sociologique française 1896,” Revue de métaphysique et de morale 5 (1897): 489519Google Scholar, here p. 498.

107 For example, on the Earth as narrativity, see Bruno Latour, “Anthropology at the Time of the Anthropocene: A Personal View of What Is to Be Studied,” (paper presented to the American Association of Anthropologists, Washington, December 2014): “The great philosophical contribution of the Anthropocene is that narrativity, what I call geostory, is not a layer added to the brutal ‘physical reality’ but what the world itself is made of.”

108 Isabelle Stengers has played a central role in this importation: for her, Gaia serves to designate the event that intrudes into human experience and its efficiency as an antidote to the concept of Anthropocene reified as a period. See Stengers, “Accepting the Reality of Gaia: A Fundamental Shift?” in The Anthropocene and the Global Environmental Crisis: Rethinking Modernity in a New Epoch, ed. Clive Hamilton, Christophe Bonneuil, and François Gemenne (London: Routledge, 2015), 134–44. See also Dutreuil, “Gaïa: hypothèse.”

109 For a critique of the notion of collapse by archaeologists and anthropologists, see McAnany, Patricia A. and Yoffee, Norman, Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability and the Aftermath of Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010)Google Scholar.

110 Latour, Facing Gaia, 138.

111 Dorothea Heinz and Bruno Latour, “La prose du monde s’est-elle vraiment interrompue?” in Bildwelten des Wissens: Kunsthistorisches Jahrbuch für Bildkritik, vol. 9, part 1, Präparate, ed. Horst Bredekamp (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2012), 99–102.

112 Latour and Leclercq, Reset Modernity! especially “Procedure 7: In Search of a Diplomatic Middle Ground,” 405–9.

113 Latour, Facing Gaia, in particular 10–14 and 220–54; François Hartog, “L’apocalypse, une philosophie de l’histoire,” Esprit 6 (2014): 22–32.

114 This sociology has been begun by Hartmut Rosa from the perspective of the environmental acceleration of the industrial era, though he does not accord a central role to the still-too-recent concept of the Anthropocene. See Rosa, Social Acceleration: A New Theory of Modernity [2005], trans. Jonathan Trejo-Mathys (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013); Hartmut Rosa and William E. Scheuerman, eds., High-Speed Society: Social Acceleration, Power, and Modernity (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2009).

115 Eduardo Kohn, How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology beyond the Human (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013).

116 Jean-Baptiste Fressoz et al., Introduction à l’histoire environnementale (Paris: La Découverte, 2014).

117 Arthur F. McEvoy, The Fisherman’s Problem: Ecology and Law in the California Fisheries, 1850–1980 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

118 Joseph E. Taylor III, Making Salmon: An Environmental History of the Northwest Fisheries Crisis (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1999); Taylor, “Burning the Candle at Both Ends: Historicizing Overfishing in Oregon’s Nineteenth-Century Salmon Fisheries,” Environmental History 4, no. 1 (1999): 54–79.

120 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Postcolonial Studies and the Challenge of Climate Change,” New Literary History 43, no. 1 (2012): 1–18.

121 Déborah Danowski and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, “L’arrêt de monde,” in De l’univers clos au monde infini, ed. Émilie Hache (Bellevaux: Éd. Dehors, 2014), 221–339.

122 Romain Bertrand, “La tentation du monde: ‘histoire globale’ et ‘récit symétrique,’” in À quoi pensent les historiens? Faire de l’histoire au xxi esiècle, ed. Christophe Granger (Paris: Autrement, 2013), 181–96; Roger Chartier, “La conscience de la globalité (commentaires),” Annales HSS 56, no. 1 (2001): 119–23.

123 Richard H. Grove, “Conserving Eden: The (European) East India Companies and their Environmental Policies on St. Helena, Mauritius, and in Western India, 1660 to 1854,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 35, no. 2 (1993): 318–51. See also the commentary published with the French translation of this article: Grove, Les îles du Paradis. L’invention de l’écologie aux colonies, 1660–1854, trans. Mathias Lefèvre with an essay by Grégory Quenet (Paris: La Découverte, 2013).

124 This argument was made by Ursula Heise in her analysis of the recompositions between modernity, globalization, and the planetary level. See Heise, Sense of Place and Sense of Planet: The Environmental Imagination of the Global (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

125 Francesca Trivellato, “Is There a Future for Italian Microhistory in the Age of Global History?” California Italian Studies 2, no. 1 (2011): 1–24.

126 Antonella Romano, Impressions de Chine. L’Europe et l’englobement du monde, xvi exvii esiècle (Paris: Fayard, 2016), particularly 7–26.

127 The expression “champs de force” comes from the title of the first part of Les paysans de Languedoc, in its full French-language version: Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Les paysans de Languedoc (Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1966; repr. Paris: Sevpen, 1966; Paris/La Haye: Mouton, 1974; new ed. Paris: Éd. de l’Ehess, 1985). This work has also been published in abridged editions (Paris: Flammarion, 1969; Paris: Le grand livre du mois, 2000 [22nd edition]). For an English translation of the abridged edition (which does not include this section) see The Peasants of Languedoc, trans. John Day (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1977).

128 Michel de Certeau, The Writing of History, trans. Tom Conley (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 70–72 and 106, n. 43.

129 Fredrik Albritton Jonsson, Enlightenment’s Frontier: The Scottish Highlands and the Origins of Environmentalism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013); Jonsson, “The Origins of Cornucopianism: A Preliminary Genealogy,” Critical Historical Studies 1, no. 1 (2014): 151–68.

130 Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History,” 201–7.

131 This question opens the classic work by Raymond Aron, Introduction à la philosophie de l’histoire. Essai sur les limites de l’objectivité historique (Paris: Gallimard, 1948), 17–49.

132 Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past. On the Semantics of Historical Time [1979], trans. Keith Tribe (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 15–16.

133 Sylvie Mesure, “Présentation,” in Wilhelm Dilthey, L’édification du monde historique dans les sciences de l’esprit [1910], trans. Sylvie Mesure (Paris: Éd. du Cerf, 1988), 5–28, here pp. 7–12.

134 Grégory Quenet, Qu’est-ce que l’histoire environnementale? (Seyssel: Champ Vallon, 2014).

135 Philippe Descola, Beyond Nature and Culture [2005], trans. Janet Lloyd (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 309–35.

136 Piero Bevilacqua, Tra nature e storia (Rome: Donzelli, 1996).

137 Marco Armiero and Stefania Barca, Dell’ambiente. Une introduzione (Rome: Carocci, 2004).

138 Grégory Quenet, Versailles, une histoire naturelle (Paris: La Découverte, 2015).

139 For the genealogy of this concept and its reorganization toward a biochemical and systemic vision, see Marina Fischer-Kowalski, “Society’s Metabolism: The Intellectual History of Material Flow Analysis, Part I: 1860–1970,” Journal of Industrial Ecology 2, no. 1 (1998): 61–78.

140 André Georges Haudricourt, “Nature et culture dans la civilisation de l’igname. L’origine des clones et des clans,” L’Homme 4, no. 1 (1964): 93–104.

141 Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism, vol. 1, The Structures of Everyday Life [1967], trans. Siân Reynolds (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 69–70.

142 On the tension that has run through the concept of history since the eighteenth century, between the idea of an internal civilizational process and that of an entity confronted with other spaces, see Antoine Lilti, “‘Et la civilisation deviendra générale.’ L’Europe de Volney ou l’orientalisme à l’épreuve de la Révolution,” La Révolution française 4 (2011):, especially p. 3, § 5.

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Full text views reflects PDF downloads, PDFs sent to Google Drive, Dropbox and Kindle and HTML full text views.

Total number of HTML views: 45
Total number of PDF views: 125 *
View data table for this chart

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 05th March 2020 - 15th April 2021. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Linked content

This is a translation of: L'Anthropocène et le temps des historiens

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

The Anthropocene and the Time of Historians
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

The Anthropocene and the Time of Historians
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

The Anthropocene and the Time of Historians
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Your details

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *