Public Lecture “Climate change and history in the Atlantic Enlightenment” by Jan Golinski (Utrecht, 28 June 2017)

How are beliefs about climate intersected with ideas about historical change in Europe and North America at the end of the eighteenth century? Professor Jan Golinsky’s (University of New Hampshire) lecture focuses on a period that has recently been identified as the dawn of the Anthropocene, when human activity began to cause changes in the global environment.

Golinsky will argue that many intellectuals of the period believed that the climate was undergoing alteration on a historical timescale. Narratives concerning climate change circulated in the Atlantic world, couched at a range of levels from the localized to the planetary, and functioning in various ways to allow people to make sense of their environmental experiences.  One could say that the Atlantic Enlightenment gave birth to climate as a category of historical thinking at this time.

During the following century, however, environmental factors largely faded out of historical writing, as the prevailing narratives emphasized the political and economic conditions bearing on social development.  Golinsky’s project attempts to recover a forgotten legacy of Enlightenment thought about the environment, in which historical self-consciousness embraced the physical conditions of human life.


Jan Golinski is a professor in the Department of History and the Humanities Program. He came to UNH in 1990, after completing a Ph.D. at the University of Leeds and a postdoctoral fellowship at Churchill College, Cambridge. He teaches courses on the history of science since the Renaissance, European intellectual history, and historiography. Professor Golinski has held distinguished fellowships at the Huntington Library (California) and the Chemical Heritage Foundation (Philadelphia); he has also been a visiting fellow at the Dibner Institute for the History of Science at MIT, at the University of Wisconsin, and at the Universities of Cambridge and Salford in the United Kingdom. At UNH, he has been recognized by the Outstanding Faculty Award (Associate Professor) in 1998, and the Lindberg Award for Excellence in Teaching and Research in the College of Liberal Arts in 2012.

Professor Golinski’s research focus is on the sciences of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. He is the author of three books: Science as Public Culture: Chemistry and Enlightenment in Britain, 1760-1820 (Cambridge University Press, 1992); Making Natural Knowledge: Constructivism and the History of Science (University of Chicago Press, 2005); and British Weather and the Climate of Enlightenment (University of Chicago Press, 2007). He also edited, with William Clark and Simon Schaffer, The Sciences in Enlightened Europe (University of Chicago Press, 1999). He is currently working on a biographical study of the English chemist Humphry Davy, and on the sciences of the environment in the era of Romanticism.

Time, venue and admission

Belle van Zuylenzaal at the University Hall (Academiegebouw), Domplein 29, Utrecht. The lecture takes place on Wednesday, 28 June 2017, from 19:30 hrs (coffee/tea reception); the lecture itself starts at 20:00 hrs. Admission if free; no registration is necessary.