Academic journal article Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies

Hard Frost, 1684

Academic journal article Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies

Hard Frost, 1684

Article excerpt

Over the past decade literary scholars have turned to cultural geography to understand the emergence of the modern nation-state and social topography of the early modern metropolis. In studying the historical production of space, early modernists have drawn on the history of cartography to argue that nations have their basis in the printed and written representations that delineate territorial demarcations. Mapmaking and other operations of spatial delimitation and political circumscription figure prominently in such work.1 We have heard relatively little, however, about geographical factors other than the social function of spatial configurations or the power of maps as signifiers. Because knowledge of classical and modern meteorological theory circulates only within specialized fields, cultural historians rarely pay much attention to the traditional division of the globe into frigid, temperate, and torrid regions or to technologies of observing and recording daily variations in weather. Recent research on the history of the weather and on the development of observation methods discloses the importance of climate to the economic and aesthetic life of Britain during the long eighteenth century (Jankoviæ ). Even while we concede the importance of chorography or regional geography to seventeenth-century notions of locality, we can see how thinking about weather played a crucial role in the formation of national identities. Unlike most objects of early modern scientific study, meteorological phenomena affected the lived experience of large numbers of people, including the natural philosophers who sought to understand them. If experimental knowledge situated itself in the closed spaces of the laboratory and anatomy theater, the study of weather shifted attention away from the privileged indoor realm to the bodies and lived experiences of ordinary men and women.

Talk of daily weather might seem very dull and very English.2 Yet as climate became the object of sustained theoretical attention and growing anxiety in the later seventeenth century, a new repertoire of techniques for representing and measuring it came into existence. Seventeenth-century physicians regarded the human body as a field traversed by external forces that could upset its delicate equilibrium. Similarly, early modern geographers regarded human beings as products of a monogenetic creation who nevertheless remained distinguishable from one another by the diversity of their temperaments, manners, and "complexions," which they linked to climate variation. As I argue in this essay, weather and climate played a key role in forming English body worlds and a sense of English identity. To make this case I first turn to what English writers of the seventeenth century said about cold climates, and then go on to show how English weather, particularly cold weather, became the object of fascinated attention in the 1680s. Cold weather held a special importance for the English, and behind the many clichéd assertions about the influence of chill and damp on British constitutions stands a substantial body of thought, some of which I undertake to explore here. English identities were constituted not only spatially and temporally but in the daily operations of weather.

My argument divides in half, with part 1 attempting to provide answers to the questions of why climate became a matter of urgent concern in the later seventeenth century, and why northern climates in particular appeared so deserving of study and commentary. As the new sciences of chemistry and astronomy mingled with the older disciplines of history and geography, writers sounded a deep note of disquiet about the place of climate in history and its role as an engine of cultural difference. As we shall see, cold and hot climates demanded attention because of their apparent importance to the mechanisms that mediated between external and bodily realms and their implication in the process of cultural transmission. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.