Almost exactly six years ago, I created HistoricalClimatology.com and co-founded the Climate History Network with professor Sam White, an environmental historian then at Oberlin College. At the time, I was a PhD student at York University in Toronto, Canada. I had recently completed the comprehensive exams that, in North America, qualify PhD students to begin writing their dissertations, and I was fresh from a visit to a Dutch archive. I thought that I could build a platform - this website - that would let me share what I learned as I researched and wrote my dissertation. At the same time, I hoped to build a network that would help me find like-minded scholars, and at the same time provide a new way for my field to grow.
After just a few months, I realized that I was onto something, but not quite in the way that I had expected. Sam and I quickly saw that, if the Climate History Network was going to get off the ground, we had to work harder than we had anticipated. We had built a rough framework that allowed scholars of past climates to create fresh online content for themselves. Yet, that is not what most of our users wanted. They needed us to construct a resource that provided information and tools to sustain a new kind of scholarship, while connecting them to like-minded researchers around the world. We understood that it would take a while to build something like that, and we couldn't do it all ourselves.
I had a very different challenge with HistoricalClimatology.com. By the end of 2010, it was on course to receive 10,000 hits for the year: far more than I expected for a website with a long domain name, a dated design, and, as yet, very little content. Clearly, there was a thirst, within academia and the broader public, for insights into climate change that drew both from the humanities and the sciences. I had a choice. I could keep the site about me, and thereby increase my name recognition in my field, and among laypeople interested in climate change. Alternatively, I could transform the site into something much bigger than myself: a major resource that could link scholarship on past climates to discussions about our warmer future.
That second approach carried big risks. It would require a lot of work to build something credible, and I wasn't sure if I had the necessary time, skills, or prestige. It would also disassociate my name with something I had built, just as it was becoming popular. If you've ever met a PhD student, you'll know that most think obsessively about the advantages they might gain on the academic job market. By changing HistoricalClimatology.com, I worried that I was shooting myself in the foot.
After a few weeks of indecision, I changed the site in early 2011. I was going to build a major resource that wouldn't be about me, although I accepted that I would need to do the work that would get it off the ground. By 2012, this site covered the big stories in historical climatology and climate history, with short monthly or bimonthly articles. It also offered links and graphs for laypeople interested in past climates, and a bibliography that was the first of its kind, anywhere on the Internet. In March, the site was referenced in a BBC News article that covered the emergence of historical climatology as a multidisciplinary research field. At around the same time, I started writing articles for other websites that referenced HistoricalClimatology.com. I also added links to Wikipedia pages about, for example, the Little Ice Age or the Medieval Warm Periods. Meanwhile, my articles on this site grew longer and more scholarly. By 2013, HistoricalClimatology.com received more than 50,000 hits annually. That year, I attended a scientific conference in India, and was surprised to discover that some of the scientists there knew me from the website that I had built.
In India, I met a young graduate student - Benoit Lecavalier - who shared my interest in tracing climate changes through deep time. Benoit was a Master's student in physics. He worked in time periods, and on scales, that are often inaccessible to historians. I asked him to contribute to HistoricalClimatology.com, and he agreed. Soon after, I started searching for a social media editor who could expand the reach of both this website and of the Climate History Network. Before long, PhD student Eleonora Rohland, then researching the environmental history of hurricanes, accepted the position. When Eleonora was ready to pass the position to someone new, I posted a call for applications that received responses from several excellent candidates. I selected Bathsheba Demuth, then a PhD student who not only explored the environmental history of the Arctic, but had spent several years living there. Last year, Nicholas Cunigan, a PhD student studying the climate history of the Dutch West India Company, joined the Climate History Network as our newsletter editor. I still created almost all of the content at HistoricalClimatology.com, and a good share at the Climate History Network homepage. Yet increasingly, I belonged to a team of like-minded scholars.
A lot of things changed in 2015, not only for me but for the climate history resources I helped create. In August, I joined Georgetown University as a tenure-track assistant professor of environmental history. I won awards from Georgetown that let me expand and redesign HistoricalClimatology.com and the Climate History Network website. Meanwhile, our popularity soared. Last year, this site received around 200,000 hits. The Climate History Network homepage received fewer hits - just under 20,000 - but many of these are from scholars who use our resources to support their scholarship and teaching. We launched the Climate History Podcast, which currently features quarterly interviews with major figures in climate change scholarship.
I view this as the beginning of the end of the process that I started back in 2011, when I transformed this website into something less focused on my own scholarship. Increasingly, our climate history websites will not only continue to reach a broader audience, but also feature insights from a range of senior and junior scholars in the sciences and the humanities. Diverse scholars, at Georgetown and elsewhere, will now help me build our websites, write our feature stories, update our social media feeds, improve our tools, and expand the reach of scholarship into past climates. We will expand offline, by hosting climate history workshops at Georgetown, as well as a major conference dedicated to connections between climate changes and conflict.
To that end, we now have a large team of young professors and graduate students in climate history. These are the people who will help develop our resources in the coming years, in no particular order:
Dr. Dagomar Degroot: Director, HistoricalClimatology.com, Co-Director, Climate History Network. Assistant professor of environmental history, Georgetown University.
Dr. Sam White: Co-Director, Climate History Network. Associate professor of environmental history, Ohio State University.
Bathsheba Demuth: Assistant Director, HistoricalClimatology.com and the Climate History Network. PhD candidate in environmental history, University of California, Berkeley, and incoming assistant professor of environmental history, Brown University.
Nicholas Cunigan: Newsletter Editor, Climate History Network. PhD candidate in environmental history, University of Kansas, and adjunct professor of history, Calvin College.
Faisal Husain: Project Editor, HistoricalClimatology.com. PhD candidate in environmental history, Georgetown University.
Matthew Johnson: News Editor, Climate History Network. PhD candidate in environmental history, Georgetown University.
Katrin Kleemann: Social Media Editor, HistoricalClimatology.com and the Climate History Network. PhD candidate in environmental history, Rachel Carson Center.
Benoit Lecavalier: Contributing Editor, HistoricalClimatology.com. PhD candidate in physics and physical oceanography, Memorial University.
If you want to read more about us, you can visit the "People" page of HistoricalClimatology.com, and the "About Us" page of the Climate History Network website. I am delighted to work with such talented and industrious colleagues, and I'm looking forward to seeing where we can go from here. If you have any suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact me.