Thesis ID: CBB106409942

Weathering Early Modern Germany: Vernacular Meteorology, Pastoral Theology, and Communal Life in the Long Sixteenth Century (2019)


This dissertation explores common ideas about the weather throughout German-speaking lands during the long sixteenth-century (ca. 1480-1620). Weather offers a particularly revealing window into society because of its ubiquity. The weather touched everyone’s daily life and was significant enough to also warrant the creation of a broad body of sources that preserve a record of contemporary perspectives on the subject. In particular, this study examines the interplay between naturalistic and theological outlooks on the weather. Part I of the dissertation shows that Aristotelian naturalism permeated society with the aid of vernacular meteorological publications including annual practicas and weather books. Part II traces how naturalistic understandings of weather shaped the cultural context in which the first generations of Lutheran theologians and pastors attempted to promote a theological significance of the weather. An affirmation of God’s sovereignty over natural secondary causes of the weather created space for naturalistic explanations in Christian society, but did not prevent tensions from arising as well, especially in the aftermath of notable weather-related events. Lutheran pastors, including Martin Luther himself, had concern that natural knowledge of the weather would conceal the hand of God. The popular naturalism at the root of their concern is detailed throughout this study from multiple vantage points. The very possibility of popular naturalism in sixteenth-century Germany is one of the innovative historiographical contributions of the dissertation. I argue that common men and women, along with elites, shared a basic understanding of the natural workings behind the weather within an Aristotelian cosmological outlook. That naturalistic perspective—and a sense of why it was compatible with Christian doctrine—was established by the late fifteenth century and had great continuity through the early decades of the seventeenth century. Such continuity over time and the harmony of a shared knowledge of the weather throughout society offer illuminating cultural perspectives for re-examining the impact of the Protestant Reformation and the Little Ice Age in the context of the sixteenth century. Finally, the study concludes with a reflection on modernization narratives and suggests why some of the features of society highlighted in this study have been largely overlooked.

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Authors & Contributors
Kraker, Adriaan de
Friedman, Russell L.
Granada, Miguel A.
Guha, Sumit
Harrison, Peter
Hartbecke, Karin
History of Meteorology
Ambix: Journal of the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry
Annals of Science: The History of Science and Technology
Early Science and Medicine: A Journal for the Study of Science, Technology and Medicine in the Pre-modern Period
Environment and History
Intellectual History Review
Cambridge University Press
Johns Hopkins University Press
Science and religion
Naturalism (philosophy)
Natural philosophy
Cabeo, Niccolo
Descartes, René
Fernel, Jean François
Forestier, Thomas
Green, William Henry
Time Periods
16th century
17th century
15th century
18th century
14th century
Rome (Italy)
Jesuits (Society of Jesus)

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