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Climate and History

Climate and History: Studies in Interdisciplinary History

Robert I. Rotberg
Theodore K. Rabb
Andrew B. Appleby
Donald G. Baker
Micheline Baulant
Reid A. Bryson
Jan de Vries
John A. Eddy
David Hackett Fischer
Harold C. Fritts
Geoffrey A. Gordon
David Herlihy
Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie
Helmut E. Landsberg
G. Robert Lofgren
Jerome Namias
Christine Padoch
Christian Pfister
John D. Post
Theodore K. Rabb
Thompson Webb
Alexander T. Wilson
Copyright Date: 1981
Pages: 290
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  • Book Info
    Climate and History
    Book Description:

    The effect of climate on historical change represents an exciting frontier for reading and research. In this volume scholars contribute to an area of interdisciplinary study which has not been systematically explored by climatologists and historians working together.

    Originally published in 1981.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5410-3
    Subjects: Environmental Science, General Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-2)

    The study of past climates is an old pursuit. Helmut Landsberg, in the third chapter of this book, provides a clear picture of early methods of recording and examining the world’s climate. But collaborative research on the impact of climate on man’s works and events, and a systematic reporting and evaluation of that research were uncommon before theJournal of Interdisciplinary History, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, sponsored a meeting of meteorologists, paleobotanists, astronomers, chemists, physicists, and historians in 1979. The results of that conference, suitably revised, appear here in book form for the first time. (They originally appeared...

  4. On the Climates of History
    (pp. 3-18)
    Reid A. Bryson and Christine Padoch

    The development of objective, quantitative evidence of how climates orclimata,and the associatedbiota,have changed significantly (even during postglacial and historical times) has expanded the possibility of the rational inclusion of the climatic factor in the study of history.¹ Climatic variation has produced variation in both the quantitative and qualitative character of the economic base of cultures, nations, and societies. This new recognition is not a revival of environmental determinism; it implies neither that all environmental changes have a climatic cause, nor that all cultural changes have an environmental cause, and it does not rest on an assumption...

  5. Measuring the Impact of Climate on History: The Search for Appropriate Methodologies
    (pp. 19-50)
    Jan de Vries

    A generation ago the proposition that a non-human history systematically impinged upon, let alone shaped, human history found little support among historians. Today, the acceptance of this possibility is regularly being urged upon us, and by many of our most distinguished colleagues. Yet, to what extent is this unmistakable intellectual shift the result of convincing evidence of linkages between climate and human history of more than a fleeting and random sort?

    This article examines the measurement of climate’s impact on economic life in preindustrial Europe in theory and practice. I address, in turn, climatic influences on the three levels of...

  6. Past Climates from Unexploited Written Sources
    (pp. 51-62)
    Helmut E. Landsberg

    In many parts of the globe climatic information has been regularly published since the organization of governmental meteorological services. This organization took place in major countries in the middle or toward the end of the nineteenth century. In the United States weather observations since the establishment of a Weather Bureau (now the National Weather Service) by an act of Congress form the basis of the official climatic record. In developing countries weather services did not start until after World War II, but a number of the colonial administrations maintained weather records from the end of the nineteenth or the beginning...

  7. Epidemics and Famine in the Little Ice Age
    (pp. 63-84)
    Andrew B. Appleby

    Mortality in Western Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as Flinn has shown, was characterized by great instability: periods of “crisis” mortality alternating with periods of relatively low mortality. The frequent crises were caused by famine, epidemic disease, and war, sometimes working in combination, sometimes not. After about 1650 or 1700, these great crises became progressively less frequent and mortality moved slowly and unevenly toward its present state of stability, with little fluctuation in crude death rates from year to year.¹

    Famine, the most important cause of these early modern mortality crises, disappeared from much of Western Europe by...

  8. The Little Ice Age: Thermal and Wetness Indices for Central Europe
    (pp. 85-116)
    Christian Pfister

    The kinds of evidence used to reconstruct past weather and climate can be divided into two classes: for those generated through natural manifestations of climatic change and analyzed by scientific disciplines, the termfield datais appropriate; for the body of man-made climatic data in the form of written and illustrated documents buried in archives, libraries, and museums we use the termdocumentary data. Only recently has it been shown that documentary sources of information about past climates are not equally reliable. Much material which purports to record historical events is gravely misleading. Almost all compilations of weather descriptions, printings,...

  9. Severe Drought and Recent History
    (pp. 117-132)
    Jerome Namias

    Man’s existence throughout history has been plagued by drought. Areas with either moist or dry climates have suffered from drought in normal times or in periods of climatic extremes. Droughts are not isolated events but are part of the large-scale patterns of atmospheric circulations that determine climate in their normal configurations but can lead to drought and flood in their extreme deviations from normal. The configurations of atmospheric flow tend toward certain fixed sizes or wave lengths and thus we have “teleconnections”—a meander of large-scale flow in the atmosphere over one area of the earth’s surface tends to be...

  10. Climate and Documentary Sources: A Comment
    (pp. 133-138)
    David Herlihy

    In the investigation of climates which have prevailed in historical times, documentary records offer the researcher certain distinct advantages. At least in some parts of the world (notably in Western Europe), written documents affording some information on climate exist in continuous series, stretching back into the Middle Ages. They are, for the most part, readily available in publications and archives; they are easily read and cheaply processed. But their use and interpretation also present the researcher with certain formidable difficulties.

    As Christian Pfister has lucidly explained, our knowledge of past climates is based on two groups or families of data....

  11. The Impact of Climate on Political, Social, and Economic Change: A Comment
    (pp. 139-144)
    John D. Post

    That climate changes is well established At issue is whether climate change has had any significant influence on the fluctuation of demographic variables or the level of economic activity, beyond its impact on those lands located at the margins of the temperate zone.

    According to Lamb and others, the preindustrial centuries of Europe, the period discussed in the papers of Andrew B Appleby and Jan de Vries, were marked by low values of the long-term mean temperature in comparison with recent normals. This little ice age, stretching roughly from the last half of the sixteenth to the first half of...

  12. Climate and the Role of the Sun
    (pp. 145-168)
    John A. Eddy

    Our utter dependence on the sun for daily light and heat is so obvious a fact of our existence that it is easily overlooked. To this one star we also owe all our food—through a chain of life that begins in simple plants and aquatic forms—the replenishment of oxygen through photosynthesis, and the generation of nearly all of the energy that we have ever used. In harnessing wind and water power we reap the solar energy that drives the atmospheric circulation and cycles the water from ocean to air and back again, and in burning wood, coal, or...

  13. The Reconstruction of Climatic Sequences from Botanical Data
    (pp. 169-192)
    Thompson Webb III

    The temporal sequences of botanical data, ranging from time scales of hundreds of millions down to tens of years, are a rich source of information about past climates. The oldest botanical evidence (spores, leaves, stems, and petrified wood) is fossilized in rocks; more recent evidence (pollen, seeds, needles, wood, and phytoplankton) is preserved in ocean and lake sediments; and the most recent evidence (tree rings and other vegetative material) is still accumulating in living plants. Analysis of these different types of data shows that several vegetative attributes can vary with climate. These include the growth rates and chemical composition of...

  14. Past Climate Reconstructed from Tree Rings
    (pp. 193-214)
    Harold C. Fritts, G. Robert Lofgren and Geoffrey A. Gordon

    Three severely cold winters over the greater part of the United States accompanied by droughts in the first year, and high precipitation in the following two years, suggest to the layman that either our ideas of “normal” climatic conditions are wrong or that climate is changing. Although the evidence for an actual climatic change continues to be vigorously debated, past climate was at least more variable than our present climate. Consequently, there is a renewed interest in assessing to what extent the climate of the past has differed from that of today and what influence it has had upon man....

  15. Isotope Evidence for Past Climatic and Environmental Change
    (pp. 215-232)
    Alexander T. Wilson

    Human history as a subject has been developed largely by people who have used written records. The availability of written documents falls off sharply with time and in many areas of the world the written records span only a very short period. This article reviews information of interest to historians which is potentially available in other records—for example, in cave formations, tree rings, and ice sheets—and, in particular, describes the contribution that isotopic chemistry can make to the recovery of such information. The availability and quality of isotopic material does not fall off so sharply with time as...

  16. Botanical and Chemical Evidence of Climatic Change: A Comment
    (pp. 233-240)
    Donald G. Baker

    To the surprise of many, the influence of climate is frequently neither obvious nor easy to detect in historical and cultural records. It is evident that catastrophic climatic events do play important and recognized roles, yet even in certain climatic catastrophes the effect is not the result of climate alone, but is in part a function of man’s action as well. Two such events of recent memory are the droughts in the Sahel region of Africa and the Great Plains’ “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s. In both events man’s activities intensified and worsened the climatic effects. In most cases, however,...

  17. Climate and History: Priorities for Research
    (pp. 241-250)
    David Hackett Fischer

    Anyone who studies the literature of climatological history cannot but be astonished by the ingenuity of its methods, and by the sweep of its success. Few fields of historical research are presently in so flourishing a state. During the past several decades climatology has grown into a confederation of many little sciences, each with its own special sources and techniques. There is dendrochronology (the study of tree rings) and palynology (pollen grains); sedimentology (river beds) and stratigraphy (lake bottoms); pedology (soils) and glaciology (ice); lichenometry (algae and fungi) and phenology (the study of recurrent phenomena such as harvests and migrations)....

  18. The Historian and the Climatologist
    (pp. 251-258)

    The historian stands amazed before the extraordinary ingenuity of the scientists from half a dozen fields who have manipulated their physical findings to produce detailed information about weather and climate across the centuries That we can discover the temperature, rainfall, and even windiness hundreds of years ago from such unlikely sources as trees, the sediment on lake floors, lightning strikes in the desert, or cave formations, seems inherently implausible When one learns about all the possible sources of confusion that have to be filtered out before reliable figures can emerge—the growth pattern or the location of a particular species...

  19. Research Notes

    • Grape Harvests from the Fifteenth through the Nineteenth Centuries
      (pp. 259-270)
      Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie and Micheline Baulant

      Several research results have already been published on the subject of meteorological fluctuations during the sixteenth century.¹ In order to interpret the impact of these changes, research based on phenology and in particular on harvest dating continues to be of crucial interest. All other factors being equal, late harvest dates are indicative of a vine-growth period (March-April to September-October) during which average temperatures were mostly cold. Early harvests, on the contrary, indicate relatively high average temperatures during the same seasonal intervals. Temperature fluctuation readings are thus approximations.

      This article synthesizes all of the currently known harvest date series (published, or...

    • Analysis of Viticultural Data by Cumulative Deviations
      (pp. 271-278)
      Barbara Bell

      Climatologists wishing to bring out the more lasting and significant shifts in the mean temperature or rainfall from the random annual fluctuations customarily use a running mean of the individual data points. Yet Kraus introduced a method, previously used mainly by hydrologists, to the study of rainfall records; this method consists of computing and plotting the cumulative deviations from a mean, in his case the mean annual rainfall for the years 1881-1940. Although this method, which can be used for any time-series of data, has been adopted to date by very few climatologists, I consider that it has several significant...

  20. The Contributors
    (pp. 279-280)