Environmental history of urban ice

The city of Helsinki is surrounded by waters, which’ environmental history has been extensively studied. During a considerable time of the year these waters are, however, frozen. The presence of ice has been widely neglected in urban environmental history scholarship. In the context of advancing global climate change the frequency of the freezing of urban waters is decreasing and urbanites are confronted with profound transformations in their wintry experiences of ices. Therefore, research on past cryospheric realities in an urban context is crucial as ever.

My on-going research project “White infrastructures – an environmental history of ice” explores the history of diverse uses of ice, and their implications within the urban. I focus on urban social and spatial change in relation to the cryospheric environments in 19th and early 20th century Finland, especially Helsinki. The themes covered in the research include the commodification of coldness through ice harvesting and trade with it; the emergence of ice-based cooling infrastructures; and ice as a medium of the hygienic project of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The project is funded by the Academy of Finland [Grant Number: 286676].

Ice blocks delivered to Kaisaniemi restaurant, Helsinki, in 1918. Photographer: Ivan Timiriasew, Helsinki City Museum.

Ice harvest at River Vantaa, Helsinki, appr. 1900. Photographer: Anonymous, Helsinki City Museum.

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