This essay highlights the great potential that historical research offers for discussing energy-related issues more reflexively in current debates on the "great global challenges." Tracing the historical roots of present-day energy regimes not only reveals societies' long and contentious relationship with-and dependence on-energy sources of various kinds but also challenges essentialist, linear, and at times utopian notions of "energy transitions" in public and political debates. We argue that historical research is particularly able to reveal how energy transitions have been and continue to be embedded within larger societal transitions and are subject to asymmetrical power relations as well as to circumstance, contingencies, and unanticipated effects and consequences. In order to disentangle the complex relations of society and energy, we propose focusing on three topics in particular: (1) renewable energies and environmental issues; (2) actors, networks and institutions in incumbent systems; and (3) discourses and perceptions as agents of change.
Meyer, Jan-Henrik; Hasenöhrl, Ute