Grads & Undergrads: Geography Colloquium – Manufacturing Petrotoxicity (1903-1945)

Geography Colloquium, with reception to follow
Where: Smıith 304
When: February 3 at 3.30

Speaker: Adam Romero is a Geographer as well as an Assistant Professor in the
School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at UW Bothell

Abstract: In the early 1920s, the California Spray Chemical Company introduced highly refined white oil sprays into the California agricultural market. By the early 1930s, oil sprays had become the weapon of choice for combatting unwanted pests in fruit orchards across the US west, and by the late 1930s, oil sprays had become the critical economic poison for industrial fruit and nut production around the world. In this talk I explore the rationalization of oil as an economic poison across California and US agriculture. In doing so, I link the agroscientific fabrication of phytonomic oil sprays to both structural changes in agriculture and the development of the oil producing and refining industries in California. I argue that that the historical development of oil as an economic poison turned on three critical axes: 1) the entomological shift from viewing insects as individuals to study to seeing insects as populations (and metapopulations) to control 2) the technological development of California’s oil refining industry and the development of non-energy based commodities, especially lubricating oils, and 3) the scientific rendering of petrotoxicity from the physical properties of oil.

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