Three factors furthered the emergence of the field of volcanism and climate change in the 20th century: trigger events in the form of major volcanic eruptions, which attracted scientific and public attention (Katmai [1912], Agung [1963], Mount St. Helens [1980], El Chichón [1982], Pinatubo [1991]); the availability of long-term global data obtained by instruments including pyrheliometers, sondes, computers, and satellites, which allowed generalizations and theoretical considerations; and major scientific and public debates that assigned an important place to the theme. No one of these factors alone would have been sufficient; the new object of research emerged only from a specific but not necessarily simultaneous combination of arbitrary events in nature, standardized measurements of global reach, and public demand. The latter comprised many aspects, beginning with the debate around the cause of the ice ages, mutating into an environmental discussion of man-made climate change covering a spectrum of apocalyptic scenarios that pointed up the fragility of human existence on earth, including the possible impact of atmospheric H-bomb tests during the 1950s and 1960s, the environmental and human consequences of a nuclear war between the USSR and the United States, and anthropogenic climate change. Existing historical representations of the research field have so far been written exclusively by scientists themselves. This paper critically examines these accounts while placing the research on the field of volcanism and climate change within its larger social and political history.

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