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‘Exquisite Atmography’: theories of the world and experiences of the weather in a diary of 1703

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 July 2001

JAN GOLINSKI
Affiliation:
Department of History, Horton Social Science Center, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH 03824, USA

Abstract

This paper describes and analyses a hitherto unknown document of considerable historical significance: a narrative diary of the weather for every day of the year 1703. Available evidence enables us to assign the authorship of the document, with a high degree of probability, to an Oxford graduate residing in rural Worcestershire. The text presents plentiful natural philosophical speculations about the causes of meteorological phenomena, drawing both upon the ideas of leading scientific thinkers and upon vernacular lore concerning the weather. Furthermore, the diarist composed a remarkably personal document, in a richly descriptive style, cataloguing his physiological and emotional reactions to prevailing weather conditions. The document thus represents an empathic and discursive style of meteorology, an alternative to the contemporary efforts to establish objective weather records that have previously been recognized by historians.

Oft, as he travers'd the coerulean field,

And mark'd the Clouds that drove before the wind;

Ten thousand glorious systems would he build,

Ten thousand great ideas fill'd his mind;

But with the clouds they fled, and left no trace behind!

James Thomson, The Castle of Indolence (1748).

Type
Research Article
Copyright
© 2001 British Society for the History of Science

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Footnotes

I thank audiences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at Cornell University who heard presentations of this paper and responded with probing and helpful questions. Other colleagues and friends, including Catherine Crawford, Peter Dear, Michael DePorte, Adrian Johns, David Kaiser, Roy Porter, Jessica Riskin, Simon Schaffer and Alison Winter, enthusiastically discussed the project with me. I received helpful suggestions from the staff at the National Register of Archives and at the Hereford and Worcester Record Office. I am particularly grateful to Michael Wood and Ian MacGregor, of the National Meteorological Archive, and Janet Pennington, the archivist of Lancing College, for having facilitated my work with the manuscript.