Climate and Catastrophe in Cuba and the Atlantic World in the Age of Revolution

Climate and Catastrophe in Cuba and the Atlantic World in the Age of Revolution

Climate and Catastrophe in Cuba and the Atlantic World in the Age of Revolution

Climate and Catastrophe in Cuba and the Atlantic World in the Age of Revolution


From 1750 to 1800, a critical period that saw the American Revolution, French Revolution, and Haitian Revolution, the Atlantic world experienced a series of environmental crises, including more frequent and severe hurricanes and extended drought. Drawing on historical climatology, environmental history, and Cuban and American colonial history, Sherry Johnson innovatively integrates the region's experience with extreme weather events and patterns into the history of the Spanish Caribbean and the Atlantic world.

By superimposing this history of natural disasters over the conventional timeline of sociopolitical and economic events in Caribbean colonial history, Johnson presents an alternative analysis in which some of the signal events of the Age of Revolution are seen as consequences of ecological crisis and of the resulting measures for disaster relief. For example, Johnson finds that the general adoption in 1778 of free trade in the Americas was catalyzed by recognition of the harsh realities of food scarcity and the needs of local colonists reeling from a series of natural disasters. Weather-induced environmental crises and slow responses from imperial authorities, Johnson argues, played an inextricable and, until now, largely unacknowledged role in the rise of revolutionary sentiments in the eighteenth-century Caribbean.


Climate change! Global Warming! El Niño and La Niña! These phrases, now part of our daily vocabulary, stir emotions and prompt reactions ranging from fear, to anger, to a feeling of helplessness in the face of impending disaster. For the past several years, the Caribbean, the southeastern United States, and the Gulf Coast have endured repeated hurricane strikes, while the Pacific region has suffered through alternating periods of drought-induced wildfires and torrential downpours. Governments are warned to be prepared for an imminent period of weather-induced environmental crisis caused by a warming cycle in the earth’s climate.

Decades of research have made “climate change” household words, but until now the social sciences have rarely utilized scientific discoveries to understand the connections among climate, catastrophe, environmental crisis, and historical change. Drawing inspiration from hard science and contemporary issues, this book will establish that the current phase of climate-induced stress is not unique and that a similar cycle, a fifty-year warm anomaly, occurred during the last five decades of the eighteenth century. in addition, historical climatology demonstrates that in the period under study (1748–1804) barely a year went by when the world did not experience the effects of an El Niño or La Niña cycle, episodes of severe, prolonged drought counterbalanced by hurricane activity in the Atlantic basin. Such scientific facts have little value, however, unless the consequences of environmental stress can be shown to coincide with a known historical narrative.

This book will establish that nexus of science and social science by demonstrating correlations among the late-eighteenth-century climate anomaly, the onset of the El Niño or La Niña cycle, and historical processes. It will argue that—not coincidentally—these phenomena coincided with one of the most critical periods in history, termed the Age of . . .

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