January 17, 2018

Revolutions in the Grass: Energy and Food Systems in Continental North America, 1763–1848

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By Natale Zappia

This article draws connections between the political revolutions of the Atlantic World and the equally powerful environmental revolutions occurring in North America between 1763 and 1848. The political-economic transformations that shook coastal cities also reverberated in the reorganization of food production and indirectly grass consumption, revealing deep interconnections between


imperial objectives, continental land use practices, and the emergence of a global food system. Understanding the critical role of nonhuman actors, including grass and herbivores, reveals deeper relationships shared between early modern political, cultural, and environmental history.

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Ottoman Iceland: A Climate History

Fig4Mikhail-cut-550By Alan Mikhail

In June 1783, the Laki volcanic fissure began erupting in Iceland. It would continue to do so for the next eight months. One of the largest volcanic discharges in recorded history, the ash it produced led to cold summers across Europe, the Mediterranean, the Americas, and parts of Central Asia. This article examines the impacts of the explosions on Ottoman Egypt and uses this climate history of Iceland and Egypt to analyze ways of doing global environmental history. By focusing on the directly


linked climate history of Iceland’s environmental and political impacts on Ottoman Egypt, the article attempts to show the utility of analyzing small-scale instances of global climate change. It moreover argues for the importance of the history of Laki for Middle Eastern history and also shows how considering the history of the Middle East adds to our understanding of the global history of Laki.

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Claiming the Past: History, Memory, and Innovation Following the Christmas Flood of 1717


By Adam Sundberg

The Christmas Flood of 1717 affected much of the North Sea coastline between Denmark and the northern Netherlands and was one of the greatest disasters of the early modern era. This article investigates the impact of the flood in the northern Dutch province of Groningen and makes three interrelated claims. First, the flood showcased the contested nature of flood interpretation and adaptive decision making in the wake of disaster. Second, dialogues of conflict that developed in the aftermath of the flood focused on three issues: the divine causation of flooding, the financing of dike


management, and the viability of technocratic solutions to flood risk. Third, the ultimate goal of much of the flood literature was to promote prescribed action but also to enshrine the motivations for those beliefs in legal precedent, history, and cultural memory. Rather than being defined by either cumulative experience or the shock of catastrophe, the Groninger response is a case study in the importance of both. This balance resulted in a dialogue that stressed continuity and convention while simultaneously facilitating technological innovation.

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The Theology of Climate Change: Sin as Agency in the Enlightenment’s Anthropocene

By Lydia Barnett

This article surveys a brief and forgotten episode in the history of climate science when a handful of European scholars at the turn of the eighteenth century formulated some of the first theories of global climate change. Appearing incidentally in several works of world history, these conjectural accounts of a dramatic downturn in the earth’s ancient climate following Noah’s Flood were intended to explain the physical and spiritual decline of humankind since biblical times. Although theories of local climate change were becoming widespread in this moment, theories of global climate change were distinguished by their emphasis on sin as a potent


form of human agency capable of transforming the entire planet, a global force no less powerful and deadly for being largely unintentional. I focus on the Italian physician and naturalist Antonio Vallisneri (1661–1730), whose emphasis on the physical suffering of humans as a result of climate change highlighted the role of humans in bringing such a calamity about in the first place. Paying attention to these long-neglected theories illuminates the key role of religion in fostering the idea of a global climate capable of alteration by human activity.

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