Before Global Warming: Ideas on Climate Change in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

AHA Session 186
Saturday, January 4, 2014: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Columbia Hall 5 (Washington Hilton)
James Rodger Fleming, Colby College
The Audience

Session Abstract

Climate change is one of the most debated issues of our time. However, its historical dimensions beyond the second half of the twentieth century have thus far received scarce attention in both the public and academic realms. This panel will explore concepts of climate change in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, highlighting the long history of theories on climatic instability.

How did the notion of “climates” evolve with colonial expansion? How did it intersect with ideas of race? What were the political and economic contexts for the development of academic climate science? And how did scholarly theories and popular ideas on growing deserts and changing climates relate and interact with one another?

In the papers and the discussion, we attempt to go beyond the grand narrative of global warming that draws a direct line from Svante Arrhenius’ findings on the role of carbon dioxide to modern models of the anthropogenic greenhouse effect, looking instead at earlier debates on climate change and an eclectic array of explanatory models.

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