On climates and disciplines in Norway in the 1870s


  • Gunnar Ellingsen University of Bergen


In the 1870s there were two scientific experts on climate in Norway. Their climates shared space, but not time, and the knowledge about them was produced from different scientific objects: the atmosphere and the flora. This paper discusses how these bodies of knowledge about climate were formed in different emerging disciplines, and how they represent distinctive views of what constituted scientific knowledge about climate. Formed within the same small scientific institution in Christiania, and influenced by the political agendas of an emerging nation-state, they show both the political significance and the semantic diversity of the scientific concept ‘climate’ in Norwegian science in the 1870s. The first expert was Axel Blytt (1843-1898), botanist at the Botanical Garden in Christiania (now Oslo) from 1862, and professor of botany at the University from 1880. It was the history of the Norwegian flora that caught Blytt’s interest and turned his attention towards climate. Throughout history, varying climate had produced plant distribution patterns in Norway, manifested as separate layers in peat bogs. From the study of these patterns and layers, Blytt produced knowledge about Norway’s climate in the past. The other expert, working at the same institution, was Henrik Mohn (1835-1916), who was appointed first director of the Norwegian Meteorological Institute and professor of meteorology at the University in Christiania by the Norwegian Parliament in 1866. Unlike Blytt, Mohn was interested in the directly observable climate and not its history. This article will discuss differences and similarities in Blytt’s and Mohn’s climate studies, including their relationships to objectivity, to historization, and to ideological or political aspects of their work.