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British Weather and the Climate of Enlightenment

Enlightenment inquiries into the weather sought to impose order on a force that had the power to alter human life and social conditions. British Weather and the Climate of Enlightenment reveals how a new sense of the national climate emerged in the eighteenth century from the systematic recording of the weather, and how it was deployed in discussions of the health and welfare of the population. Enlightened intellectuals hailed climate’s role in the development of civilization but acknowledged that human existence depended on natural forces that would never submit to rational control.

Reading the Enlightenment through the ideas, beliefs, and practices concerning the weather, Jan Golinski aims to reshape our understanding of the movement and its legacy for modern environmental thinking. With its combination of cultural history and the history of science, British Weather and the Climate of Enlightenment counters the claim that Enlightenment progress set humans against nature, instead revealing that intellectuals of the age drew characteristically modern conclusions about the inextricability of nature and culture.

272 pages | 20 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2007

Earth Sciences: Meteorology

History: British and Irish History, European History

History of Science


“British Weather and the Climate of Enlightenment explores the study of the weather in eighteenth-century Britain and America to produce a rich and often novel picture of the relationship of human reason to the natural world. The book serves us a model of the cultural history of science and convincingly argues that study of the natural world should be placed at the heart of the modernity of the Enlightenment in general.”

Katharine Anderson, author of Predicting the Weather

“An excellent book, solidly researched and original. Jan Golinski has written a cultural history of British attitudes toward the weather, and especially the weather of their own island nation and its colonies. British Weather and the Climate of Enlightenment looks at the cultural ramifications of beliefs about the weather, along with practices associated with trying to keep track of it and, ideally, understand it. Golinski shows how the values and ideals of the Enlightenment were brought into everyday life in the course of experiencing and examining the weather.”

Mary Terrall, University of California, Los Angeles

“As much as it is on our minds now, interest in the climate has historically reflected concerns about modernity, and reference to it has always implied moral and political, as well as meteorological, conditions. In this nuanced and insightful account, the eminent historian of Enlightenment science and society Jan Golinski reveals how the invention of the science of weather exposed underlying scientific vulnerabilities and social anxieties in the quest to predict and rationalize the climate of the times.”

Brian Dolan, University of California, San Francisco

“In this superb book, eminent historian Jan Golinski demonstrates how scholarly research into the past can illuminate the concerns of the present. Ranging from doctors to diarists, from naturalists to novelists, Golinski explores how British people made weather a national preoccupation during the eighteenth century. Reinterpreting modernity as well as history, Golinski exposes the cultural roots of meteorology to present environmentalism as an Enlightenment product. This is essential reading for appreciating current responses to global warming.”

Patricia Fara, University of Cambridge

"[A] thoughtful and deeply researched account of how weather and climate consistently challenged the scientific
certainties of the Enlightenment....[A] rich and timely volume."—Richard Hamblyn, Telegraph (UK)

Richard Hamblyn | Telegraph

"A historical account of civilization’s efforts to understand the relationship between location, season, and a person’s moods and health. Considerable research into accounts written in the 17th and 18th centuries relates findings with surprising relevance to the present."


"[An] absorbing new study of attitudes to the weather in the age of Enlightenment...[the book] gives us such a lucid picture of its subject, backed by abundant documentation and argued in manner both stylish and vigorous."—Pat Rogers, Times Literary Supplement

Pat Rogers | Times Literary Supplement

"Golinski’s riveting and entertaining work is a valuable and revealing addition to the histories of culture and science."

Ellen J. Jenkins | Journal of British Studies

"This deft and entertaining book frequently surprises the reader with its balance of contextual history, methodological insight, and flowing expression."

Greg Good | Isis

"This superbly researched volume contains a lesson on how to make sense of of the extraordinary importance of climate in modern history. With a new kind of climatological determinism embedded in global political agendas, a work of this kind performs a public service in reminding us about the social origins of 'climate' and our infatuation with it."

Medical History

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations •  Preface • 
            Introduction: Weather and Enlightenment 
1.         Experiencing the Weather in 1703: Observation and Feelings 
            The “Exquisite Atmography” and Its Author • The Atmosphere and the Earth • Clouds in the Head
2.         Public Weather and the Culture of Enlightenment 
            The Great Storm in Public Debate • Providence and the British Climate • Conversation and Weather Lore
3.         Recording and Forecasting 
            The Discipline of the Diary • The Calendar and the Seasons • Forecasting by the Heavens
4.         Barometers of Enlightenment 
            The Genealogy of Weather Instrument • The Instrument Trade and Consumers • Interpreting the “Oraculous Glasses”
5.         Sensibility and Climatic Pathology 
            The Hippocratic Revival • Aerial Sensitivity and Social Change • The Politics of Atmospheric Reform
6.         Climate and Civilization 
            The Enlightenment Debate on Climate • Medicine and the Colonial Situation • America: Climate and Destiny
            Conclusion: The Science of Weather 
Notes •  Bibliography •  Index


Atmospheric Science Librarians International: ASLI Best Book Award

History of Science Society: Pfizer Award
Short Listed/Finalist

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