The Climate is History Workshop, 2014

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The Climate is History: Documents as Evidence of Climate Change

12 May, 2014
The University of Western Ontario
Somerville House, Room 3305

A one-day workshop introducing a new collection of archival climate records and discussing the place of climate in the humanities and social sciences. The workshop is organized by NiCHE: Network in Canadian History & Environment and the Faculty of Social Science at the University of Western Ontario.


climate is history poster final-rFive years ago, environmental historians, geographers, anthropologists and other researchers, including staff from Environment Canada, met at a workshop at Western to assess available data for the study of past Canadian climates and to identify research strengths and weaknesses in Canadian climate history.

That workshop began a dialogue that culminated this spring in Environment Canada sending to Western Archives on long-term loan its archival collection of Canadian daily observational weather records spanning the period from 1840 to 1960. Besides being preserved, this nationally-significant environmental data will be made available for research, for teaching, and potentially for digitization.

This seems an apt occasion to meet again, to discuss 1) specifically, how researchers can utilize this collection of climate data, and 2) generally, how to develop research infrastructure for Canadian historians and scientists working on climate history. On 12 May 2014, NiCHE and Western will host The Climate is History, a one-day workshop where stakeholders from Western and Environment Canada, as well as a variety of other scholars, archivists, and digital specialists, will meet to discuss research and digitization in climate history. (On 13 May, Western is also hosting the Ontario Climate Consortium Symposium, “Science and Cities >>CONNECT”; participants at The Climate is History workshop are invited to attend. Note: as a workshop guest you may register as a student and indicate you were at the NiCHE event on the 12th.)

The Climate is History: Workshop Program

Monday, 12 May, 2014
Somerville House, Room 3305

8:30 am, Registration and refreshments

9:00, Welcome & introductions

9:10-10:00, Document Acquisition, Preservation, & Use

What’s in the Environment Canada collection at Western?

  • Alan MacEachern (Department of History and Network in Canadian History & Environment)
  • Robin Keirstead (Western Archives)
  • Anna Deptuch-Stapf (Archive Operations, Environment Canada)

10:00-10:30, Coffee

10:30-12:00pm, Documents in Climate Research I

What are climate scientists doing with historical documents today?

  • Kevin Wood (NOAA Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, University of Washington)
    “New Insight from Old Climate Data: Recovery to (Re)analysis” [abstract]
  • Victoria Slonosky (Director of the Canadian Volunteer Data Rescue Program, ACRE)
    “Canadian Historical Climate Data: Results and Analysis from the Volunteer Historical Climate Data Rescue Project” [abstract]
  • Adam Fenech (Climate Lab, University of Prince Edward Island)
    “The value of historical phenological observations in understanding the past climate of Nova Scotia” [abstract]

12:00, Lunch
The Wave, University Student Centre

1:30-3:00, Documents in Climate Research II
Somerville House, Room 3305

What are climate historians doing (and what could we do) with documents?

  • Bill Waiser (History, University of Saskatchewan)
    What’s Climate got to do with it?
    The Transition to Agriculture on the Canadian Northern Plains in the Late Nineteenth Century
  • Teresa Devor (History, University of New Brunswick)
    “Historical Climatology and Climate History in Canada: A Reconnaissance and One Historian’s Approach.”
  • Dagomar Degroot (History, York University)
    “What Climate is History … and How?”
  • Jason Hall (History, University of New Brunswick)
    “Climate History in the Classroom”

3:00-3:15, coffee

3:15-4:45, Digitization and Deliverables

What is big climate data, and how should we digitize, preserve, and deliver it?

  • Chris Kocot (Archive Operations, Environment Canada)
  • Donald Moses (Robertson Library, University of Prince Edward Island)
  • Response: Kevin Wood

4:45-5:00, wrap-up

5:15-6:45 Dinner
Green Leaf Cafe, Somerville House


Please read the chapter Can History Help us with Global Warming by environmental historian J. R. McNeill, and think about his description of long run historical change, resilience, and how “the record of the past becomes relevant to imagining the future.”

7:00 Keynote “Old Weather and The New Climate of the Arctic” (Dr. Kevin Wood, NOAA and OldWeather)
Conron Hall, UCC 224


Dr. Kevin Wood
Dr. Kevin Wood

A vast reservoir of new-to-science environmental data is contained in historical ship logbooks and other original documents that have been preserved for generations by national archives and other repositories around the world, but these data are technically inaccessible. The Old Weather citizen-science project is recovering millions of these hand-written observations, converting them into digital format, and integrating them into large-scale data sets where they are used for new research. These data are needed for scientists to better understand longer-term environmental variations in the Arctic and globally, and is vital to our efforts to model and predict future change and its human impact. Old Weather citizen-scientists also make enormous contributions in other areas from maritime history to plasma physics.

Keynote Lecture

Note: the following lecture by Dr. Wood was delivered at the US National Archives shortly after he presented in London. It is featured here because it provides the same content with better quality than what we were able to record.

Building a Climate Time Machine: National Archives NOAA Old Weather Collaboration

Tuesday, 13 May, 2014, Ontario Climate Consortium Symposium “Science and Cities >>CONNECT”

Map of Workshop Locations (link to full map)

Climate is History Workshop and Western Campus Map

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