Asian Extremes: Climate, Meteorology and Disaster in History
Date : 17 May 2018 - 18 May 2018
Venue : Asia Research Institute, Seminar Room
AS8, Level 4, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260
Download Program & Abstracts_as of 14 May

This conference is organised by the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore; with support from International Commission on the History of Meteorology, and Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

The weather plays an often underestimated, yet vitally important role in human history. Climate has been considered an explanation for almost every aspect of society and culture, from causing disease to determining racial characteristics historically. Extremes of weather, especially those experienced in Asia including typhoons and monsoon rains, have also had a major impact on society. In urban areas, the weather has contributed to urban destruction and shaped resultant urban rebuilding and planning. In the port and coastal cities of Asia, the need to understand those extremes also led to pioneering scientific developments in the fields of meteorology and maritime science. In the modern Anthropocene, the need to understand the history of the climate and all its associated impacts is ever more critical.

Climate and weather history are established, yet developing fields, although arguably, studies in this field have disproportionately favoured Northern Europe, in large part because of the greater availability and accessibility of records. There are still many knowledge gaps for Asia, partly because of the paucity of records in comparison to Europe or because many archives have either been restricted or have only relatively recently been opened.

The aim of this conference is to explore the weather in the history of anthropogenic Asia. It ties in with current historiographical trends that explore scientific history as a globally linked enterprise, one that crossed different national and imperial borders. It also sees Asia as critical to the development of global meteorological science: understanding extremes such as typhoons were essential to trade, economy and society. Despite the centrality of extreme weather to urban Asia historically (and in the present day) however, this subject remains relatively under researched. The panels adopt an interdisciplinary approach, appealing to historians, social scientists and natural scientists. Exploring events and trends in the history of climate changes and extremes of weather suggests what an enhanced understanding of the past might teach us about managing and adapting to current climatic challenges. This helps us to fill a gap between different disciplines, especially meteorology and science which are more concerned with data and historians and/or social scientists who put more emphasis on the socio-political aspects of climate and climate change.

In this conference, we seek to gain a better understanding of the following themes:    

  • Asian Extremes: Weather as a Driver of Change
  • Imperial Meteorology: A Global Science
  • Culture, Climate and Weather
  • Weather History and the Modern-Day: Integrating History and Science in the Anthropocene       


Dr Fiona Williamson
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
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Assoc Prof Gregory Clancey
Asia Research Institute, and Tembusu College, National University of Singapore