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Hello and welcome to my personal homepage!

 

I’m an environmental and early modern historian and currently a doctoral candidate at the Rachel Carson Center in Munich / LMU Munich, where I study environmental history and geology. The subject of my PhD project is the Icelandic Laki fissure eruption of 1783 and its impacts on the northern hemisphere. The image above shows the Laki fissure as seen from Mount Laki in August 2016.

About


Katrin Kleemann is a doctoral candidate at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society at the LMU Munich in Germany,  where she studies environmental history and geology. In her dissertation she studies the impacts of the Icelandic Laki fissure eruption of 1783 on the northern hemisphere.

The Laki fissure eruption is a fascinating research object as it is not a cone shaped volcano but a 27 kilometer long fissure in Iceland’s remote highlands that produced the largest amount of lava in the last millennium during its eight months of activity. In Iceland the eruption caused a famine, which killed about a fifth of the population. Mainland Europe saw many extraordinary natural phenomena during 1783: a heatwave in the summer, followed by three severely cold winters, numerous thunderstorms, earthquakes, but most notably a veil of dust, which lasted for two to three months and had a sulfuric odor. While the population of Europe bore witness to this unusual haze, outside of Iceland it was unknown that a volcanic eruption was taking place. In the spirit of the Enlightenment contemporaries speculated about the cause of the haze and tried to explain the unusual natural phenomena of their time with reason. They developed several theories on what could have caused the unusual weather and natural phenomena.

Katrin holds a Master’s degree from the Freie Universität Berlin in early modern history and a Bachelor’s degree from the Christian-Albrechts-Universität of Kiel in history and cultural anthropology. Now she is pursuing her doctoral research at the Rachel Carson Center in Munich, where she is enrolled in a structured PhD program, the RCC offers an international and interdisciplinary environment that allows her to combine studies of history as well as geology.

At the Rachel Carson Center, Katrin also works as a research associate at the Environment & Society Portal, where she coordinates Arcadia and the Virtual Exhibitions, two peer-reviewed born-digital journals for the environmental humanities.  She is the social media editor for the Climate History Network and HistoricalClimatology.com. Moreover Katrin works as a freelance translator and German teacher.

To get in touch, please send an email.

 

Image source: Visiting Taormina in Sicily in June 2016, in the background you can see Mount Etna. Photo taken by Jack Walsh, all rights reserved.

 

 

 

Research


Today it is well known that Iceland is home to active volcanoes. This fact became quite obvious to most people in Europe and North America when Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010 and its ash grounded international air traffic for several days. In the summer of 2014 the Bárðarbunga volcano was erupting north of Vatnajökull in the Holuhraun lava field and webcams broadcast the eruption 24/7 to anybody in the world with an internet connection. So, while I was writing my Master’s thesis on the Laki fissure eruption’s impacts on the German territories in the summer of 1783,  I could live stream a volcanic eruption that occurred in the remotely located Icelandic highlands. The contemporaries in 1783 had to wait several months for news about a volcanic eruption to reach mainland Europe. In 1783, just like in 2010, the jetstream carried the ash and gases, which were ejected by the volcano, towards mainland Europe. The impacts of the eruption could be felt from North America to Egypt and the Altai Mountains in Asia.

The contemporaries gazed at the sky and witnessed a veil of dust that lasted for two months. In addition to the dry fog, 1783 saw many extraordinary natural phenomena: heat, a sulfuric odor, numerous thunderstorms, a newly emerging island, and earthquakes. The hot summer was followed by three severely cold winters. In the spirit of the Enlightenment contemporaries speculated about the cause of the haze and tried to explain the unusual natural phenomena of their time with reason. Several very creative theories about the dry fog’s and the unusual natural phenomena’s origin were developed, theories of the culprit included two volcanic eruptions which took place within the German territories (the Cottaberg and the Gleichberg), and lightning rods that took away too much (or too little) electricity from the atmosphere. There was speculation that a “great burning ball” (a comet) that passed Earth caused the haze. Contemporaries lived in the time of a subsurface revolution that caused earthquakes in Europe, so that too became a theory. A new island that had emerged off the coast of Iceland, earthquakes and a tsunami in Sicily and Calabria were also fancied as the cause or at least part of it. A possible Icelandic volcanic eruption, most likely caused by Hekla (pictured above), was another theory among many. The most popular theory of the time was that the earthquakes in southern Italy opened the Earth and the gases from the inside of the Earth could emerge, form a sulfuric haze, and travel across Europe.

It took months for the news of an Icelandic volcanic eruption to reach mainland Europe, another decade until the fissure was discovered, and more than one hundred years for the dots between the haze and the eruption to be connected.

The volcanic eruption occurred at an interface between the environment and society, as it is located between natural eco systems and the societal and economic consequences. First and foremost, this project is an environmental history about the Laki fissure eruption and its impacts, how those impacts were perceived differently in different regions, and which explanation and coping strategies and practices were evoked. Environmental history studies the interactions between society and their natural and man-made environment. The topic is nevertheless very versatile and allows me to incorporate many different disciplines: cultural and social history, history of science and history of knowledge, climate history and historical climatology, historical anthropology, and disaster history.

The Laki fissure eruption enables us to learn something about our present and future dealings with climate change. Climate change is something that we can attest scientifically but that we cannot explain adequately for everybody to understand it. The Laki fissure eruption occurred invisibly for the contemporaries due to the distance and the standard of scientific inquiry. Today, invisible disasters still occur, some of which are triggered by climate change, for instance the loss of biodiversity. Researching invisible interrelations is therefore a relevant endeavor far beyond the 18th century.

 

Image source: Detail of the historical map “Islandia“, by Jean Boisseau. Théatre Géographique du Royaume de France. France, about 1648. The map is in the public domain due to its age. It’s part of a collection at the National and University Library of Iceland.

Publications


Articles

Kleemann, Katrin, and Sophie Mibus. “Altbrief, Brief mit Briefinhalt an Prinz Xaver von Sachsen in Dresden, betr. Beschwerde von Raphael und Michael Hertz aus Schleusingen.Online Collection of the Museum für Kommunikation Berlin 2014.

Translations

Welt-kult-ur-sprung – World Origin of Culture. Edited by Georg Hiller, and Stefanie Kölbl. Translated by Katrin Kleemann, and Iris Trautmann. Ostfildern: Jan Thorbecke Verlag, 2016.

Blog articles

Kleemann, Katrin. “Knowing Nature: The Changing Foundations of Environmental Knowledge. Conference Report.Seeing the Woods, 22 June 2017.

Kleemann, Katrin. “Snapshot: Where Geology Meets Early Modern History. A Millstone Quarry in Upper Bavaria.Seeing the Woods, 19 June 2017.

Kleemann, Katrin. “Eruptions, Earthquakes, & Emissions: Visualizing the Planet’s Heartbeat.Ant Spider Bee, 6 February 2017.

Kleemann, Katrin. “Watch your Step! Moss Conservation in Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland.Seeing the Woods, 18 October 2016.

Kleemann, Katrin. “Snapshot: Beach Litter in a Sustainable Exhibition. Seeing the Woods, 7 June 2016.

Kleemann, Katrin. “Flyover Country App, or What Do Airplanes and Dinosaurs Have in Common?Ant Spider Bee, 4 May 2016.

Kleemann, Katrin. “Worldview: Earthquakes in Munich?Seeing the Woods, 20 April 2016.

Kleemann, Katrin. “Beyond Doom and Gloom: An Exploration Through Letters—A New Virtual Exhibition.Seeing the Woods, 6 April 2016.

Kleemann, Katrin. “Environmental Geology in Spain – From 21st Century Pollution to Fossil Atolls.Environmental Studies Certificate Program Blog, 28 February 2016.

Kleemann, Katrin. “Environmental Geology in Spain – Geology Explains Coral Remains on a Hilltop.Environmental Studies Certificate Program Blog, 27 February 2016.

Kleemann, Katrin, and Maya Schmitt. “Snapshot: Distant Transformations.Seeing the Woods, 22 February 2016.

Kleemann, Katrin. “Environmental Geology in Spain – Retracing a Past Volcanic Eruption.Environmental Studies Certificate Program Blog, 21 February 2016.

Kleemann, Katrin. “Snapshot: Earthquake Simulation at the Museum Mensch und Natur.Seeing the Woods, 9 February 2016.

Image source: The image was taken from pexels.com and is licensed under a CC0 license.

Blog


To learn more about my ongoing research you can read my research blog, just visit www.volcanoesrock.com.

(The image of the 2014 Bárðarbunga eruption used on the website was taken by Sparkle Motion and is licensed under a CC BY 2.0 license. Click here to view source.)

 

Image source: The image shows Mount Vesuvius from Pompeii, 2005. Photo taken by Katrin Kleemann, all rights reserved.