Panel proposal

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Organizer: Franz Mauelshagen


  1. Eleonora Rohland, Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities, Climate & Culture, Goethestr. 31, 45128 Essen, Germany, Phone +49 201-7204-256, Fax +49 201-7204-111,

  2. Franz Mauelshagen, Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities, Climate & Culture, Goethestr. 31, 45128 Essen, Germany, Phone +49 201-7204-225, Fax +49 201-7204-111,

Chair and Discussant:

James R. Fleming, Colby College, 5881 Mayflower Hill, Waterville, Maine 04901-8858, Phone +1 207-859-5881, Fax +1 859-5846,

Over the last decade or so, the history of meteorology and climatology has developed rapidly, pushed, to some extent, by the question of anthropogenic global warming and its scientific foundations. Naturally, much of this more recent research focuses on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – probably because the nineteenth century, when positivistic approaches took over (i.e. instrumental observation and measurement), is still considered the watershed to modernity. However, recent research in as diverse branches of historical enquiry as colonial history, the history of botany, the history of medicine and environmental history suggests that the colonial experience may, in many ways, be the key to understanding the transition of climatology. By tradition, climate was a topic in geographic descriptions, which explains why it was never left unmentioned in the early travel accounts of explorers and naturalists of the “New World.” The emerging knowledge affected numerous decisions which shaped colonial life – decisions such as where and when to cruise, where to settle, what to plant, how to organize labour, how to govern, etc. In the colonies, European settlers and forced migrants from other parts of the world had to adapt to unfamiliar climatic conditions, which often contradicted the already existing climatic theories from Antiquity. At the same time, some elements of the ancient heritage were carried on and only modestly adapted to new circumstances (e.g. deterministic ideas of climatic influences on the collective character of peoples).

Focusing on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the papers of this panel will discus the colonial transformation of climatology highlighting the practical (i.e. political, economic, medical, etc.) contexts in which scientific knowledge developed.

First Presenter: Eleonora Rohland

Hurricanes on the Gulf Coast: Environmental Knowledge and Science in French Louisiana
In 1699 the Iberville expedition landed the first handful of Frenchmen on the coast of what today is the state of Mississippi but then was called La Louisiane, to found the fort of Biloxi and to find and protect the mouths of the Mississippi river against the English. Throughout the next twenty years or so, the French founded settlements along the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi river, among them Mobile and New Orleans. The seat of government had to be changed several times due to poor site selection. Finally, New Orleans had been the capital of Louisiana only for four years when a hurricane destroyed the fledgling city in September 1722.

How did the French learn about their new environment? What did they know about hurricanes and floods on the Gulf Coast and along the shores of the Mississippi? What were the channels and networks that brought the local knowledge to the scientific societies in Europe?

The paper will shed light on the state and development of ‘hurricane knowledge’ during the eighteenth century, on the significance of indigenous knowledge for the establishment of the French in the Mississippi Delta, and on the actors in France who were interested in such knowledge from the colonies. Research for this paper is based on manuscript sources from the Archives Nationales de France (Correspondance à l’arrivé en provenance de la Louisiane), on the printed Pierre Margry collection and on printed travel accounts, Histoires and scientific journals of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The paper contributes to the field of the history of meteorology and to colonial environmental history.

Second Presenter: Franz Mauelshagen

Colonial History and the Revolution of Climatology, ca. 1750-1850

In Antiquity the term “climate” was coined to circumscribe a relatively static geographical feature determining vital conditions for plant growth (agriculture) and human health (medicine). In present climate science “climate” is understood as a complex system and, in the context of the debate over the causes of global warming, its changing variability in time (rather than in space) has been the main focus. What lies in between these two very different ideas about climate is what I call the “revolution of climatology,” which is in fact a process that has been going on for at least three centuries.

Focusing on the eighteenth and nineteenth century, I will argue that the force that drove the climatological revolution was colonial experience. In the colonial framework, Europeans confronted unfamiliar environments (with unknown plant and animal species) and unexpected climatic conditions that contradicted the idea of latitudinal similitude. Moreover, unusual meteorological phenomena (e.g. hurricanes and tropical typhoons) nourished speculation about their natural causes. Practical demands of colonial life structured the emerging scientific knowledge about climate in the colonies and, thus, need to be emphasized. If botany collected the stock of knowledge needed for plantations, then climatology may be regarded as even more universal and basic to colonial economies. From the point of view of colonial powers and entrepreneurs climate had strong implications also for political reasons making climate an argument in the discourses on government and slavery. Last but not least, it was also in the colonial context that the ancient idea of climate modification was revived and applied on a large scale as settlers used deforestation to change “unhealthy” climates.

This paper draws valuable information from a lively field of research in the history of meteorology and climate science, which has emerged over the last couple of decades, as well as from research in related fields such as the history of botany and medicine. Moreover, it is rooted in my own recent research in the history of (colonial) migration.

CURRICULA VITAE (alphabetical order)
James R. Fleming is a historian of science and technology and Professor of Science, Technology and Society at Colby College, Maine. His teaching bridges the sciences and the humanities, and his research interests involve the history of the geophysical sciences, especially meteorology and climate change.

Professor Fleming earned a B.S. in astronomy from Pennsylvania State University, an M.S. in atmospheric science from Colorado State University, and a Ph.D. in history from Princeton University. In 2003 Professor Fleming was elected a Fellow of the AAAS “for pioneering studies on the history of meteorology and climate change and for the advancement of historical work within meteorological societies.” He held the Charles A. Lindberg Chair in Aerospace History at the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution in 2005-06 and the AAAS Roger Revelle Fellowship in Global Stewardship at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in 2006-07. He is the founder and first president of the International Commission on History of Meteorology, editor-in-chief of History of Meteorology, and series editor for Palgrave Studies in the History of Science and Technology.


Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.

The Callendar Effect. Boston: American Meteorological Society, 2007.

Historical Perspectives on Climate Change. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998 (paperback edition 2005).

Meteorology in America, 1800-1870. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990 (paperback edition 2000).

Klima, Special Issue of Osiris, vol. 26, no. 1 (2011), co-edited with Vladimir Jankovic.

Intimate Universality: Local and Global Themes in the History of Weather and Climate, co-edited with Vladimir Jankovic and Deborah R. Coen. Sagamore Beach, MA: Science History Publications/USA, 2006.
Selected Articles

“Revisiting Klima.” (co-authored with Vladimir Jankovic) Osiris 26, no. 1 (2011), pp. 1-16.

“The Climate Engineers: Playing God to Save the Planet,” Wilson Quarterly (Spring 2007), pp. 46-60.

“Global Climate Change and Human Agency: Inadvertent influence and 'Archimedean' interventions,” In Intimate Universality: Local and Global Themes in the History of Weather and Climate, edited by J.R. Fleming, V. Jankovic, and D.R. Coen. Sagamore Beach, Mass.: Science History Publications/USA, 2006, pp. 223-248.

“The Pathological History of Weather and Climate Modification: Three cycles of promise and hype,” Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences 37, no. 1 (2006), pp. 3-25.

“Climate Dynamics, Science Dynamics, and Technological Dynamics, 1804-2004.” From Beaufort to Bjerknes and Beyond. A Critical Perspectives on Observing, Analyzing, and Predicting Weather and Climate, edited by S. Emeis and C. Lüdecke. München: Rauner, 2005 (Special issue of Algorismus 52 (2005), pp. 9-16.

“James Croll in Context: The encounter between climate dynamics and geology in the second half of the nineteenth century.” In Milutin Milankovic Anniversary Symposium: Paleoclimate and the Earth climate system, Belgrade, 30 August - 2 September 2004: invited lectures. A. Berger, M. Ercegovac, and F. Mesinger, ed. Belgrade: Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, 2005, pp. 11-18.

“Telegraphing the Weather: Military Meteorology, Strategy, and 'Homeland Security' on the American Frontier in the 1870s.” In Instrumental in War: Science, Research, and Instruments. Between Knowledge and the World, History of Warfare Series, vol. 28. Steven A. Walton, ed. Leiden: Brill Academic, 2005, pp. 153-78.

Franz Mauelshagen is an environmental historian, whose recent work focuses on climate history and the European experience of unfamiliar environments in the framework of colonial migration. He is a senior fellow and member of the executive board at the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities Essen (Germany), where he coordinates the Climate and Culture research program.

Dr Mauelshagen earned an M.A. in philosophy, history and law from the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms University in Bonn (Germany) and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Zurich (Switzerland). Since 2000 he has held postdoctoral research positions at the Universities of Bielefeld (2000 to 2003) and Zurich (2003-2008). He lectured at the Universities of Bielefeld, Zurich, Berne and St. Gallen. In 2010 he has been awarded a research grant from Germany’s Federal Ministry for Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF) for the project Climates of Migration: Climate Change and Environmental Migration in History.



Klimageschichte der Neuzeit 1500-1900. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2010.

Wunderkammer auf Papier. Die Wickiana zwischen Reformation und Volksglaube. Epfendorf: Bibliotheca Academica Verlag, 2011.

Historical Disasters in Context. Science, Religion, and Politics. Co-edited with Andrea Janku and Gerrit Schenk. London, New York: Routledge, forthcoming 2012.

Coping with “Natural” Disasters in the Pre-Industrial World. Co-edited with Monica Juneja. The Medieval History Journal. Vol. 10, Delhi, 2007.
Selected Articles

“The Anthropocene: A Case for a Climate History of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.” Zeithistorische Forschungen 9 (2012), online edition (German and English versions available).

“Climate Catastrophism. The History of the Future of Climate Change.” In Historical disasters in context. Science, religion, and politics, edited by A. Janku, F. Mauelshagen and G. Schenk. London, New York: Routledge, 2012, pp. 261-282.

“Sharing the Risk of Hail: Insurance, Reinsurance and the Variability of Hailstorms in Switzerland, 1880-1932.” Environment & History 17 (2011), No. 1, pp. 171-91.

“Vom Klima zur Gesellschaft. Klimageschichte im 21. Jahrhundert.” Co-author with Christian Pfister. In KlimaKulturen. Soziale Wirklichkeiten im Klimawandel, edited by H. Welzer, H.-G. Soeffner, and D. Giesecke, Frankfurt am Main. Campus, 2010, pp. 241-269.

“Disaster and Political Culture in Germany.” In Natural Disasters, Cultural Responses. Case Studies Toward a Global Environmental History, edited by C. Mauch, and C. Pfister. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books,U.S., 2009, pp. 41-75.

“Keine Geschichte ohne Menschen. Die Erneuerung der historischen Klimawirkungsforschung aus der Klimakatastrophe.” In Nachhaltige Geschichte. Festschrift für Christian Pfister, edited by A. Kirchhofer et al. Zürich: Chronos, 2009, pp. 169–93.

Eleonora Rohland is an environmental and economic historian. She is a Junior Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities Essen and a Ph.D. candidate in history at the Ruhr University Bochum (her supervisors are Professors Cornel Zwierlein, Bochum, and Christian Pfister, Bern).

Eleonora Rohland earned an M.A. in history and English linguistics from the University of Bern (Switzerland). For her M.A. thesis on The Swiss Re Fire Branch 1864-1906. Risk – Fire – Climate she was awarded the Young Researchers Award for Critical Business History. Apart from a fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study research for her Ph.D. thesis on Hurricanes in New Orleans, 1722-2005 was supported by fellowship grants from the German Historical Institutes in Washington and Paris. In 2010 Eleonora Rohland was a visiting scholar at the Department for Geography and Anthropology of Louisiana State University.



Sharing the Risk. Fire, Climate and Disaster. Swiss Re, 1864-1906. Lancashire: Carnegie Publishing/ Crucible Books, 2011.

“Earthquake versus Fire: The Struggle over Insurance in the Aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco Disaster.” In Historical disasters in context. Science, religion, and politics, edited by A. Janku, F. Mauelshagen and G. Schenk. London, New York. Routledge, 2012, pp. 174-194.

“From Wood to Stone. The Risk Management of Swiss Re in the Sundsvall Fire 1888.” Environment & History 17 (2011), No. 1, pp. 153-169 (reprinted in EABH Bulletin 2011, no. 1, pp. 10-16).

“Fire in Swiss Re’s Early History, 1864-1906. Perspectives for an Environmental Business History?” EABH Bulletin 2010, no. 1, pp. 40-46.

“Why People Don’t Leave: Attachment to Place in the Aftermath of Disasters – Perspectives from Four Continents.” Co-authored with Maike Böcker, Gitte Cullmann, Ingo Haltermann and Franz Mauelshagen. Forthcoming in Oral History and Crisis, edited by Mark Cave and Stephen Sloan, New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

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