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The first topic was a typical staple of eighteenth-century thought, and an opportunity for paying homage to a premise that Arthur O. Lovejoy described as “one of the most curious monuments of human imbecility” – namely, the idea that the earth was created for “Man.” As Lovejoy detailed in his classical study The Great Chain of Being, this essentially static or closed scheme of creation would eventually collapse under its own weight and be displaced by an open, temporalized model of the universe. Bond’s approach to the topic was fairly standard, with the occasional learned allusion to Pope’s Essay on Man and reflections on humanity’s middling place in Creation between the angels and the brute animal. These gestures of mock humility allowed Bond to restate the Society’s founding mission “to increase the Power of Man over Matter, and multiply the Conveniencies or Pleasures of Life” by conducting “useful” experiments, mapping, charting, draining, and “improving” the new country, still largely unexplored, and waiting to be claimed and transformed.
This essay examines the degeneration thesis, as formulated by Buffon and taken up in the so-called dispute of the New World. Early colonial observers such as Acosta and Catesby engaged with the classical climate-determinist paradigm, with its north–south orientation of climate zones. Buffon drew on these natural history observations, Enlightenment social theory, and the new geoscience and reoriented climate determinism on an east–west axis. Buffon posited that America had emerged more recently than Europe from oceanic submergence and was thus colder and wetter – and that therefore America’s climate was more favorable to the production of supposedly inferior animals such as insects and reptiles and less favorable to larger mammals and humans. Implications for human development were vigorously contested by Americans such as Jefferson and reoriented again along a global north–south axis, notably by Hegel. The degeneration thesis enjoyed a long legacy, surfacing in the United States in nativist-populist responses to demographic issues. The essay concludes by identifying two such episodes, early twentieth-century nativism and the new nativism of the twenty-first century.
Climate has infused the literary history of the United States, from the writings of explorers and conquerors, over early national celebrations of the American climate, to the flowering of romantic nature writing. This volume traces this complex semantic history in American thought and literature to examine rhetorical and philosophical discourses that continue to propel and constrain American climate perceptions today. It explores how American literature from its inception up until the present engages with the climate, both real and perceived. Climate and American Literature attends to the central place that the climate has historically occupied in virtually all aspects of American life, from public health and medicine, over the organization of the political system and the public sphere, to the culture of sensibility, aesthetics and literary culture. It details American inflections of climate perceptions over time to offer revealing new perspectives on one of the most pressing issues of our time.
Plate tectonics is the kinematic theory that describes the large-scale motions and events of the outermost shell of the solid Earth in terms of the relative motions and interactions of large, rigid, interlocking fragments of lithosphere called tectonic plates. Plates form and disappear incrementally over time as a result of tectonic processes. There are currently about a dozen major plates on the surface of the Earth, and many minor ones. The present-day configuration of tectonic plates is illustrated inFigure 7.1. As the interlocking plates move relative to each other, they interact at plate boundaries, where adjacent plates collide, diverge, or slide past each other. The interactions of plates result in a variety of observable surface phenomena, including the occurrence of earthquakes and the formation of large-scale surface features such as mountains, sedimentary basins, volcanoes, island arcs, and deep ocean trenches. In turn, the appearance of these phenomena and surface features indicates the location of plate boundaries. For a detailed review of the theory of plate tectonics, consult Wessel and Müller (2007).
A plate-tectonic reconstruction is the calculation of positions and orientations of tectonic plates at an instant in the history of the Earth. The visualization of reconstructions is a valuable tool for understanding the evolution of the systems and processes of the Earth's surface and near subsurface. Geological and geophysical features may be “embedded” in the simulated plates, to be reconstructed along with the plates, enabling a researcher to trace the motions of these features through time.
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