What makes us who we are? From Aristotle to Ellsworth Huntington, one of the most popular answers in Western thought has been: climate. The idea that human character is essentially the product of environmental conditions reached a tipping point in the early modern period. Between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, the doctrine of climatic influence was central to the way in which Europeans understood and interacted within their living milieus, but it also raised critical questions regarding the existence of free will and the place of humans within the great order of nature. This paper will explore some of the practical applications and theoretical tensions of the early modern doctrine of climatic influence, also with an eye to possible contemporary implications.
Sara Miglietti is an Assistant Professor of French Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Her current book project, ‘The Empire of Climate’, explores perceptions and manipulations of climate in the early modern period, with a special attention to the interplay between ethics, politics, and science.
The Oliver Smithies Lectures are funded by a generous benefaction from Professor Oliver Smithies, which enables Balliol to bring distinguished visitors to the University of Oxford.