Ruling Climate: The Theory and Practice of Environmental Governmentality, 1500-1800

University of Warwick, 16 May 2015

CfP Deadline: 10 December 2014


‘Ruling Climate’ aims to explore the relationship between cultural perceptions of the environment and practical attempts at environmental regulation and change between 1500 and 1800.


In the early modern period, the environment became a privileged locus of scientific debate and governmental action. Discussions spread across Europe and its colonies as to how to improve the land, and possibly even the climate of a given place; practical efforts were made to enhance the healthiness, productivity, and overall pleasantness of the environment (both natural and built) in the belief that environmental ‘improvement’, as it was then called, would immediately bring about human improvement—a larger, healthier, happier population that would make the country more powerful. Such debates and practices were driven by a persistent belief in the influence that landscape, weather and climate would exert on human beings, both at a physical and a spiritual level. ‘Climate theories’—first advanced by ancient authors such as Hippocrates, Plato, Aristotle and Ptolemy—remained a popular explanatory paradigm throughout the early modern period, actively dictating trends in environmental management, social governance, and the administration of both private and public health, as well as shaping colonial attitudes to foreign climates and peoples. Yet the period between 1500 and 1800 was also one of substantial intellectual, scientific, and technological change in which new conceptions of nature, climate, and weather were developed. The human footprint on Earth grew heavier, whilst the first moves towards conservation and sustainable resource management were made. Finally, it was in this period that changing climatic patterns were observed for the first time, partly because of a cooling trend that reached its peak around 1650 (the so-called Little Ice Age).

‘Ruling Climate’ aims to investigate this complex of problems in an interdisciplinary fashion, focusing particularly on three central research questions:


1) continuities and discrepancies between ancient and early modern climate theories: how were classical theories of climatic influence received and adjusted to new contexts in the early modern period? How did the understanding of climate itself change over time?


2) climate theories and ‘eco-governmentality’: how did climatological ideas inspire and sustain governmental efforts of various kinds, at both a domestic and a colonial level? e.g. the displacement of populations, environmental planning in connection to public health issues, engineering works, choice of specific sites for new colonies, etc.


3) governed with climate / governing climate: what is the relationship between theories of climatic influence and the development of strategies to cope with / modify climate and the environment? e.g. through agricultural improvement, increased human settlement, draining of bogs and marshes, deforestation, etc.


We welcome abstracts for 20-minute papers from PhD students and scholars at any stage in their career. Papers from all disciplinary backgrounds are welcome, including environmental history, colonial history, intellectual history, historical geography, history of philosophy, history of medicine, history of science, history of political thought, history of technology. Please send a 200-word abstract (including your name, institutional affiliation and a provisional title) and a one-page CV to by 10 December 2014. Successful speakers will be notified in January 2015.

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