Thesis ID: CBB685919640

Anomalous Apparitions of Light in Colonial America: Visions of Comets, New Stars, the Aurora Borealis, and Rainbows (2019)


Holmberg, Megan E. (Author)
Orvell, Miles (Advisor)

Temple University
Orvell, Miles
Publication date: 2019
Language: English

Publication Date: 2019
Physical Details: 245 pp.

This dissertation examines the body of literature that formed around anomalous light apparitions (comets, new stars, the aurora borealis, and rainbows) as it explores questions about the representation and response to celestial and meteorological phenomena during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in colonial America. I further consider the ways that these texts’ meanings are informed by rational scientific thought and by other non-scientific or non-rational, emotive, or aesthetic modes of thinking. I consider how these phenomena elicit a set of empirical yet emotionally-charged observational practices that complicate how we understand the roles of the rational and the non-rational in the scientific literature of this period. I argue that non-rational passionate investments are evident within or as part of the period’s rational scientific literature; they act as the impetus for scientific inquiry therefore forming an integral part of the scientific endeavor. This dissertation further explores how the practice of writing about these phenomena generates and facilitates the formation of communities of amateur scientific observers in colonial America. I further investigate how practices of data collection contribute to knowledge about the regular and irregular behaviors of celestial bodies, and how this knowledge impacts everyday practices essential for survival such as farming and travelling. What science writing from this period demonstrates is the ability for multiple ways of thinking to be in play simultaneously; these texts show how several worldviews (i.e. science, Puritanism, popular religion) are intrinsic to each other. Because of their liminality, these texts function outside of traditional categories such science, religion, and natural philosophy. Furthermore, they destabilize traditional conceptions of genre with their blend of rational and non-rational modes of thought and their incorporation of fact and fiction. While I treat these literary texts within their historical contexts, I am also interested in the ways in which these texts reach modern audiences, particularly in academia at a time when the humanities and sciences are positioned against one another.

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Authors & Contributors
Giudice, Franco
Baldin, Gregorio
Buchwald, Jed Z.
Cirino, Raffaele
Cozzoli, Danielle
Demetera, Tamás
Early Science and Medicine: A Journal for the Study of Science, Technology and Medicine in the Pre-modern Period
Arbor: Ciencia, Pensamiento y Cultura
Galilæana: Journal of Galilean Studies
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Journal of the History of Ideas
Korean Journal of Medical History
Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura
University of Chicago Press
Springer International Publishing
Guida Editori
Experiments and experimentation
Color theory
Descartes, René
Hobbes, Thomas
Kepler, Johannes
Mersenne, Marin
Newton, Isaac
Aguillon, François d'
Time Periods
17th century
18th century
13th century
19th century
20th century
North America
United States

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