In his talk Prof. Jan Golinski will examine how beliefs about climate intersected with ideas about historical change in Europe and North America at the end of the eighteenth century. The period has recently been identified as the dawn of the Anthropocene, when human activity began to cause changes in the global environment.
Golinksi will argue that many intellectuals of the period believed that the climate was undergoing alteration on a historical timescale. Narratives concerning climate change circulated in the Atlantic world, couched at a range of levels from the localized to the planetary, and functioning in various ways to allow people to make sense of their environmental experiences. One could say that the Atlantic Enlightenment gave birth to climate as a category of historical thinking at this time.
During the following century, however, environmental factors largely faded out of historical writing, as the prevailing narratives emphasized the political and economic conditions bearing on social development. My project attempts to recover a forgotten legacy of Enlightenment thought about the environment, in which historical self-consciousness embraced the physical conditions of human life.