A network of interdisciplinary scholars studying past climate change
The latest issue of the William and Mary Quarterly features a forum on climate and early American history, with an introduction by Joyce Chapman and four articles. The first article, by Sam White, ““Shewing the difference betweene their conjuration, and our invocation on the name of God for rayne”: Weather, Prayer, and Magic in Early American Encounters,” examines the numerous accounts during the early exploration and colonization of North America wherein Native Americans supposedly asked Europeans to help them pray for better weather. It argues from textual, climatological, and archaeological evidence that the narratives are probably factual. Yet given their very different views of religion and magic, these episodes only aggravated fear and mistrust between European invaders and their Native hosts. Thomas Wickman, “‘Winters Embittered with Hardships’: Severe Cold, Wabanaki Power, and English Adjustments, 1690–1710,” The William and Mary Quarterly 72 (2015): 57–98, describes how first the Wabanaki Indians and later the English colonists of New England adapted to the cold snowy winters of the 1680s and 1690s, shifting the military balance of power in the region during the Anglo-Abenaki Wars. Fredrik Albritton Jonsson, “Climate Change and the Retreat of the Atlantic: The Cameralist Context of Pehr Kalm’s Voyage to North America, 1748–51,” The William and Mary Quarterly 72 (2015): 99–126, offers a close reading of Kalm’s travel journal and correspondence from America, situating his views of the American climate within the framework of contemporary European concerns about climate change and acclimatization. Anya Zilberstein, “Inured to Empire: Wild Rice and Climate Change,” The William and Mary Quarterly 72 (2015): 127–58, examines English efforts during the late 18th century to cultivate American wild rice, imagining it as an ideal crop to weather North America’s changeable climate. The journal issue also includes a featured review of John L. Brooke, Climate Change and the Course of Global History: A Rough Journey (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014) and Geoffrey Parker, Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013).
This month’s issue of the Journal of Interdisciplinary History leads with an article by Dagomar Degroot, “Testing the Limits of Climate History: The Quest for a Northeast Passage during the Little Ice Age, 1594–1597.” Using the case study of the Willem Barents Arctic expeditions, Degroot argues that where historians can prove that climate changed, as in the Grindelwald fluctuation of the late 1500s, they still need to demonstrate when and how specific weather influenced human affairs. Otherwise, climate data derived from proxy sources and models can only serve as a rough guide to the averages and probabilities of historical impacts. The issue also includes a review of Brooke, Rough Journey, by Kyle Harper.