From Local Patriotism to a Planetary Perspective: Impact Crater Research in Germany, 1930s-1970s, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

From Local Patriotism to a Planetary Perspective

Impact Crater Research in Germany, 1930s-1970s, 1st Edition

By Martina Kolbl-Ebert


402 pages

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pub: 2016-03-18
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The Nördlinger Ries and Steinheim Basin, two conspicuous geological structures in southern Germany, were traditionally viewed as somewhat enigmatic but nevertheless definitely volcanic edifices until they were finally recognized as impact craters in the 1960s. The changing views about the origin of the craters mark an important paradigm shift in the Earth sciences, from an Earth-centric approach to a planetary perspective that acknowledged Earth’s place in the wider cosmos. Drawing on a range of printed sources, detailed archival material, letters, personal notes, and interviews with veterans of Ries research, Martina Kölbl-Ebert provides a detailed reconstruction, not only of the historical sequence of events throughout the twentieth century, but also of the personal thoughts, emotions and motives of the scientists involved and the social context of their research. She shows that there was a sudden reconnection of German researchers with the international scientific community, particularly with more progressive American researchers, after some twenty-five years of scientific isolation during the build-up to WWII and its aftermath. This reconnection brought about not only a new view of geoscience, but also saved German geology from self-sufficiency and patriotic arrogance by integrating it in an interdisciplinary and international framework. In so doing this book sheds much valuable light on an under-explored but crucial development in the way we understand Earth’s history, as well as the way that science functioned during times of conflict.


"This work is probably best described as an important contribution to the literature and a highly readable academic monograph (…) it is a vital resource for historians of the twentieth-century geosciences, as well as anyone interested in the cultural and social contexts that constrain science, offering as it does an excellent analysis in English of a global scientific debate centred on German ideas and geology."

- Leucha Veneer in Archives of Natural History, 2017

Table of Contents

Preface; Introducing the smoking gun; Early impactists and their sources; Dismissing impact I; A letter from Berlin; Kaalijärv Crater and Köfels landslide; Impact physics - beyond human imagination; ‘German geology’; Setting the stage; The tide is turning; Dismissing impact II; Testing an old theory; Ries Crater - a terrestrial proxy for the Moon; From local patriotism to a planetary perspective; Glossary; References; Index.

About the Author

Dr Martina Kölbl-Ebert is director of the Jura-Museum Eichstätt and curator of the natural history collections of the Bishop’s Seminary in Eichstätt, Germany. Her principal research interests are in the history of geosciences.

About the Series

Science, Technology and Culture, 1700-1945

Science, Technology and Culture, 1700-1945 focuses on the social, cultural, industrial and economic contexts of science and technology from the ‘scientific revolution’ up to the Second World War. Publishing lively, original, innovative research across a broad spectrum of subjects and genres by an international list of authors, the series has a global compass that concerns the development of modern science in all regions of the world. Subjects may range from close studies of particular sciences and problems to cultural and social histories of science, technology and biomedicine; accounts of scientific travel and exploration; transnational histories of scientific and technological change; monographs examining instruments, their makers and users; the material and visual cultures of science; contextual studies of institutions and of individual scientists, engineers and popularizers of science; and well-edited volumes of essays on themes in the field.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General
HISTORY / Modern / 20th Century
SCIENCE / Earth Sciences / Geology