Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts, History, History and Philosophy of Science

Weather as Science and Culture

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An interview with Jan Golinsky author of British Weather and the Climate of Enlightenment was posted yesterday to Benjamin Cohen and David Ng’s science blog, the World’s Fair. The interview begins with an interesting synopsis of the book and its unique contribution to both cultural history and the history of science. From the World’s Fair:

WORLD’S FAIR: What do we have here? When you sent in the prospectus to Chicago, what did you tell them this would be about?
JAN GOLINSKI: The book explores beliefs about weather and climate in eighteenth-century Britain and its colonies. I argue that these beliefs reflect some of the important social and cultural changes of the period. People began to study the weather in a way that we recognize as more “scientific,” but traditional attitudes also survived, even what we might call “superstitions.” The tensions between scientific and traditional approaches seemed to me symptomatic of the age, and to some extent of modern attitudes to the natural environment in general.
WF: You’re a premier historian of science, respected, influential, articulate, good-humored, don’t worry, I’m going somewhere with this…namely, what does a book about the weather contribute to our understanding of the history of science?
JG: I think of it as a combination of history of science with cultural history. I didn’t set out to trace the origins and growth of a science of weather, but to place scientific practices like record-keeping and the use of instruments in their cultural context. So, I suppose it contributes to the way we can understand science as a set of practices and beliefs that has developed in specific historical settings.

Read the rest of the interview on the World’s Fair blog.