History, Exemplarity and Improvements: 18th Century Ideas about Man-Made Climate Change
Keywords:Gernhard Schøning, climate theory, examples, exemplarity, notions of history, 18th century
Can grain crops be increased? The issue was heatedly debated in 18th century Denmark-Norway, both for patriotic and economic reasons. The historian Gerhard Schøning (1722–80) answered affirmatively. Chopping down much of the forests that covered Norway would change the climate radically for the better. As a consequence of the warmer weather, the fertility of the soil would improve. Crops would increase, and new and even more delicate types of plants could be introduced. Schøning’s argument was nearly entirely built on examples from Greek and Roman history, cited to demonstrate that since classical times, this kind of changes had already taken place in other parts of Europe.
Climate interested a number of 18th century writers. It was not only a part of geotheory, but also included in theories about the history of society, law and culture as well as in medical thought. Ideas about a human-made climate change similar to Schøning’s can be found in texts by e.g. Hume and Buffon.
The argument relied on a quantity of examples, as well as on the uncontested exemplarity of classical literature itself. Schøning’s examples represent both series and ideals. The cases he cites are numerous (serial) instantiations of the same general mechanism: The effect of human interventions in nature. Yet at the same time they are models to follow, even if it will take some effort. Norway will never be as warm and fertile as southern countries, but Schøning exhorts his compatriots to “take courage and start!” History consisted of examples to learn from and models to follow.
Berry, Christopher 1974: “’Climate’ in the Eighteenth Century. James Dunbar and the Scottish Case”, Texas Studies in Literature and Language 281–292.
Brenna, Brita et al 2009: Aemula Lauri. The Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences and Letters, 1760-2010, Sagamore Beach, Mass. Science History Publications.
Buffon, Georges-Louis Leclerc 2018 : The Epochs of Nature. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
Damsholt, Tine 2000: Fædrelandskærlighed og borgerdyd. København, Museum Tusculanum Press.
Du Bos, Jean-Baptiste 1719: Réflexions critiques sur la poësi et sur la peinture. PJ. Mariette, Paris.
Fleming, James Rodger 1998: Historical Perspectives on Climate Change. New York, Oxford university Press.
Eriksen, Anne 2007: Topografenes verden. Fornminner og fortidsforståelse. Oslo, Pax forlag.
Eriksen, Anne, Ellen Krefting og Anne Birgitte Rønning 2012 (red): Eksemplets makt.Kjønn, representasjon og autoritet fra antikken til i dag. Oslo, Spartacus.
Foucault, Michel. 2009. Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France 1977–1978. New York: Picador.
Gelley, Alexander 1995: Unruly Examples. On the Rhetoric of Exemplarity. Stanford, California, University of Stanford Press.
Hulme, Mike 2011: “Reducing the Future to Climate. A Story of Climate Determinism and Reductionism”. Osiris vol. 26, no 1, pp.245–266.
Hume, David 1826 : The Philosophical Works, vol. 3, Edinburgh, Black & Tait. Koselleck, Reinhardt 1985: Futures Past. On the Semantics of historical Time. MIT Press. https://doi.org/10.1086/661274
Lyons, John D. 1989: Exemplum. The Rhetoric of Examples in Early Modern France and Italy. Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press. https://doi.org/10.1515/9781400860814
Rudwick, Martin J.S. 2005: Bursting the Limits of Time. The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Revolution. Chicago, University of Chicago Press. https://doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226731148.001.0001
Rusnock, Andrea A. 2002. Vital Accounts: Quantifying Health and Population in Eighteenth-Century England and France. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511550041
Schøning, Gerhard 1758: Velmeente Tanker om Agerdørkningens muelige Forbedring i Norge. København, Møller.
Storsveen, Odd Arvid 1997: ”’Fornuftig Kierlighed til Fædrenelandet’. En analyse av norsk patriotisme mellom 1784 og 1801.” I: Storsveen, O.A. (red.): Norsk patriotisme før 1814 = KULTs skriftserie nr 88. Oslo, Norges Forskningsråd.
Suhm , P.F.1781: ”Fortale”. I: G.Schøning, Norges Riges Historie, bd. 3, København, Gyldendal.
Zalasiewicz, Jan, Anne-Sophie Milon and Mateusz Zalasiewicz 2018: Introduction. In: Zalasiewicz, Jan et al (eds.): The Epochs of Nature. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
Copyright (c) 2020 Anne Eriksen
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Copyright for all manuscripts rests with the author(s). The editors reserve the right to edit manuscripts. Contributors are responsible for acquiring all permissions from the copyright owners for the use of quotations, illustrations, tables, etc. Each author must, before final publication fill, in a publishing agreement provided by LiU E-Press.
Since 2021 Culture Unbound uses a Creative Commons: Attribution license for new articles, which allows users to distribute the work and to reform or build upon it without the author's permission. Full reference to the author must be given. For older articles please see each article landing page.