1.3 Meteorology as Nationalism: The Case of the German Atlantic Expedition and the Weimar Republic

Tuesday, 24 January 2017: 11:15 AM
Conference Center: Yakima 2 (Washington State Convention Center )
Penelope K. Hardy, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD

In 1925, the naval survey and research ship Meteor left Germany on a two-year mission to crisscross the Atlantic Ocean in the name of atmospheric and oceanographic science.  A joint project of the Emergency Committee for German Science and the German Navy, the expedition's official mandate was a broad survey of oceanic and atmospheric conditions across more than sixty degrees of latitude and forty-eight degrees of longitude, but it served many other purposes—individual, institutional, and political—at the same time. 

This paper will set the German Atlantic Expedition—and specifically its atmospheric work—in the context of its time, positioning the expedition's scientific program amidst ongoing power struggles within the navy and scientific community, and in a defanged Germany eager to rebuild both reputation and capability alongside its wounded, nationalist pride.   The scientific project justified the outfitting of a new naval vessel despite the restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles.  It justified the continued existence of a naval service, whose purpose and loyalty some in the Weimar government now questioned.  It provided excuse and opportunity to show the flag in former colonies recently wrested from German control on both sides of the Atlantic.  And it provided an opportunity to demonstrate Germany's position as a Great Power via science, if it could no longer be done militarily. 

Historian Sabine Höhler has argued that Meteor's oceanographic sounding and resulting bathymetric charting were a metaphoric seizure of territory, but its quest to understand the atmosphere had similar implications.  In the context of Charles Lindbergh's imminent transatlantic flight, its importance to the future of aviation was clear.  This paper hypothesizes that, considered alongside the clearly nationalist intentions with which the mission was conceived, the Meteor's atmospheric studies should be viewed with German glider pilot training programs and the eventual export of German aerospace engineers as a form of stealth rearmament, equipping the future Germany for an anticipated return to glory.

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