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Project title: "Mastering the Climate: Theories of Environmental Influence in the Long Seventeenth Century"

Belief in the power of climate to influence and transform human beings at a spiritual as well as a physical level was extremely widespread in the early modern period, and had in fact been such since classical antiquity. Authors such as Hippocrates, Plato, Aristotle, Ptolemy and Vitruvius used "climate theory" in order to explain why nations differed so markedly from each other not only in bodily appearance, but also in cultural practices, intellectual skills, and moral behaviour. Doctrines of environmental influence remained a popular explanatory paradigm throughout the early modern period, actively dictating trends in the administration of both private and public health, as well as shaping attitudes to foreign climates and peoples.

My research focuses on a well-defined period in the history of this tradition of thought, namely that "long" seventeenth century which has thus far failed to attract extensive scholarly attention. The chief aim of my project is to understand how early modern men and women who believed in the powerful influence of climate set out to resist, correct or exploit such an influence, and how in doing so they more or less consciously transformed themselves and the places in which they lived. My sources include a vast range of materials, from maps and urban plans to texts of various kinds (political treatises, books of medical advice, travel literature, cosmographies, missionary reports, natural histories, scientific papers, scholarly correspondence, and much more), which allows me to write the history of early modern climate theories from an interdisciplinary perspective, and with a special attention to the production and circulation of knowledge across linguistic and geographical boundaries.

I am also interested more generally in reconstructing the evolution of climate theories over a longer timespan, from Antiquity to the Enlightenment and beyond. This "long history" of climate theories requires teamwork, which is why I have been keen to establish a network of PhD students and junior scholars working in this field to engage in fruitful interdisciplinary conversation. As part of this effort, between 2014 and 2015 I co-organised two conferences, "Geographies of Man: Environmental Influence from Antiquity to the Enlightenment" (with Warwick PhD students John Morgan and Rebecca Taylor) and "Ruling Climate: The Theory and Practice of Environmental Governmentality 1500-1800" (with John Morgan), both of which brought together researchers from all over Europe and the US. Revised versions of the papers presented at "Ruling Climate" are now appearing in an edited volume, Governing the Environment in the Early Modern World: Theory and Practice, forthcoming with Routledge in early 2017. With John Morgan, I also hosted a series of panels on "early modern environmental discourses" at the 61th Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America in Berlin (26-28 March 2015).

As a side project, I am also working on a database of early modern climatological and environmental works that I hope will ultimately grow into a useful resource for all those undertaking research in this field.


David A. Lines

Department of Italian (Room H410)


Head of Department

Ingrid De Smet

Department of French Studies


Food for thoughts...

Framing my research field:
Bill Luckin on Grove and the intricacies of studying early modern environmental thought.

"The use of concepts of discontinuity, rupture, threshold, limit, series, and transformation present all historical analysis not only with questions of procedure, but with theoretical problems."

[Michel Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge (1969), Routledge 1972]