Climate Change, Herring, and Supernovae: How Environmental Changes Influenced Early Modern Empires

Thursday, January 5, 2017: 3:30 PM
Centennial Ballroom F (Hyatt Regency Denver)
Dagomar DeGroot, Georgetown University
Many of the most influential environmental histories of early modern empires focus on the ways in which they either intentionally or unintentionally transformed regional, and in turn global, environments. My opening remarks will argue that there is another, largely overlooked side to relationships between early modern empires and “nature.” Environmental changes, set in motion by largely nonhuman dynamics, profoundly influenced contemporary imperialism. Climatic shifts, associated with the Little Ice Age, undermined and at times encouraged imperial endeavours from the Indian Ocean to the Arctic Circle. Animal migrations, responding in part to these climate changes, helped dictate the fortunes of fisheries and whaling industries that were an important part of some imperial economies. Changes in environments beyond Earth – such as the supernova of 1572 – provoked new developments in early modern science. Early modern empires therefore expanded into dynamic and unstable environments that coevolved with human activities and attitudes.
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