This project calls to rethink the relationship between human and earth sciences. In our present era, popularly described as the 'Anthropocene', traditional divisions in terms of both the ‘softness’ or ‘hardness’ of the phenomena under investigation, and the ‘short’ or ‘long’ durations of their formations, have been dissolved. Not only has the impact of human activities on geophysical processes reached unprecedented levels; there is also growing realisation that even in the long term, the histories of humans and of the earth have been more closely coupled than once thought. We can no longer think of the earth as a solid platform for the enactment of human affairs, or of these affairs as carried on within a domain of society or culture that floats above the fixities of the material world.
We pursue this inquiry by concentrating on ‘solid fluids’: materials that in their histories and properties, defy any opposition between hardness and softness. Our point of departure has been two such materials, ice and concrete. Glacial ice, as heterogeneous in composition and texture as soil, holds clues to the human environmental past over millennia. The production of concrete, by contrast, is largely tied to the modern project of environmental engineering. Ice and concrete have often been placed at the opposite ends of human history: the first before it began; the second marking its culmination in modernity. In an era in which the natural and the artificial continually blur, however, both ice and concrete are together caught in ongoing histories of environmental change.