Andrea Westermann

Research Fellow & Head of Office, GHI PRO

Pacific Regional Office of the German Historical Institute Washington
Institute of European Studies | University of California, Berkeley | 249 Moses Hall | Berkeley, CA 94720-2316
Phone +1.510.643.4558

Biographical Summary

Andrea Westermann specializes in the history of the earth sciences, environmental history and the history of material culture. She studied at the Albrecht-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, the Universitat de Barcelona, and the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin; did her PhD at Bielefeld University; and worked at the history and humanities departments of ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich. She was a visiting scholar at the Science Studies Program at UC San Diego and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.

Her first book Plastik und politische Kultur in Westdeutschland (Zürich 2007) is a pioneering study from a social history perspective: its starting point and pivot are the occupational health hazards involved in the production of vinyl or PVC, a classic case of “structural violence” or what Rob Nixon describes as “slow violence.” The book demonstrates the formative power of materials and their production and consumption regimes, for both establishing political cultures and their change over time. I continue publishing in this field. An environmental history essay “A Technofossil of the Anthropocene: Sliding Up and Down Temporal Scales with Plastic” is forthcoming in Power and Time. Temporalities in Conflict and the Making of History, eds. Stefanos Geroulanos et al. (July 2020). 

Her second research field combines environmental history and the history of the earth sciences. Among other things, the book will explore the history of scaling in late 19th century Europe. How did geologists, politicians and the public at large recalibrate ideas, instruments, and institutions to encompass geological, economic, and environmental phenomena that were previously unimaginably large, unrelated, or occurred in a hitherto irretrievable past? And how exactly did geologists mediate between the terrestrial and the societal scale? The questions reveal their topicality against the backdrop of global warming and other unintended environmental and political consequences of massive mineral resource consumption distributed unequally around the globe.

At GHI PRO, Andrea Westermann studies what people arriving, working, or living in the Chilean Atacama Desert knew about the earth, global mining capitalism, and geopolitics. She does so by combining environmental history with social history, economic history, and the history of science. A first article under revision for the journal Geschichte und Gesellschaft is titled: “Enrichment and Dilution in the Atacama Mining Desert: Imagining History as an Earthly Science.” 

See all her publications on

Main Areas of Interest

  • History of Science and Technology
  • Environmental History
  • Material Culture Studies
  • Migrations and Radical Environmental Change