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After the Flood

Imagining the Global Environment in Early Modern Europe

Many centuries before the emergence of the scientific consensus on climate change, people began to imagine the existence of a global environment: a natural system capable of changing humans and of being changed by them. In After the Flood, Lydia Barnett traces the history of this idea back to the early modern period, when the Scientific Revolution, the Reformations, the Little Ice Age, and the overseas expansion of European empire, religion, and commerce gave rise to new ideas about nature and humanity, and their intersecting histories.

Recovering a forgotten episode in the history of environmental thought, Barnett brings to light the crucial role of religious faith and conflict in fostering new ways of thinking about the capacity of humans and nature to change each other on a planetary scale. In the hands of Protestant and Catholic writers from across Europe and its American colonies, the biblical story of Noah's Flood became a vehicle for imagining the power of sin to wreck the world, the dangers of overpopulation, the transformative effects of shifting landforms on the course of human history, and the impact of a changing climate on human bodies, health, and lives.

Following Noah's Flood as a popular topic of debate through long-distance networks of knowledge from the late sixteenth through the early eighteenth centuries, Barnett reveals how early modern earth and environmental sciences were shaped by gender, evangelism, empire, race, and nation. After the Flood illuminates the hidden role and complicated legacy of religion in the emergence of a global environmental consciousness.

About the Author

Lydia Barnett is an assistant professor of history at Northwestern University.

Endorsements

"An incisive and thorough examination of how complex, natural philosophical discourse developed around Noah's Flood in the early modern period. This is cultural and intellectual history at its best, and it should attract a wide readership."

- Dániel Margócsy, University of Cambridge, author of Commercial Visions: Science, Trade, and Visual Culture in the Dutch Golden Age

"Nuanced and beautifully crafted. After the Flood reveals the surprisingly long history of the idea that humanity is capable of transforming nature on a global scale—an idea commonly assumed to be a twenty-first-century insight. Making use of an impressive range of archival sources, Barnett's scholarship is original, wide-ranging, and erudite."

- Deborah R. Coen, Yale University, author of Climate in Motion: Science, Empire, and the Problem of Scale

"In this dazzlingly original and deeply researched book, Lydia Barnett demonstrates how debates in early modern Europe about the causes of the Deluge stimulated arguments about anthropogenic climate change. This is a major contribution to the growing literature on the historical roots of the Anthropocene. It is also an important reminder that the religious imagination grappled with planetary scale long before the advent of earth system science."

- Fredrik Albritton Jonsson, The University of Chicago, coauthor of Green Victorians: The Simple Life in John Ruskin's Lake District

"After the Flood offers a provocative, erudite history of environmental thinking, global imagining, and Christian universalism between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Barnett's wide-ranging research on how Catholics and Protestants debated a biblical understanding of human sin and natural catastrophe between Europe and the Americas reminds us that climate change was a subject forged on the fault lines between knowledge and faith in the early modern world. An excellent contribution to global intellectual history."

- Paula Findlen, Stanford University, editor of Empires of Knowledge: Scientific Networks in the Early Modern World

"Laying waste to received environmental ideas, After the Flood delivers a strikingly original account of a seemingly recent notion: that humans are responsible for the earth's destruction. This extraordinary book weaves together imperial expeditions, theological wars, and early scientific networks to rediscover the natural and human history of a vulnerable planet."

- John Tresch, The Warburg Institute, University of London, author of The Romantic Machine: Utopian Science and Technology After Napoleon
Johns Hopkins University Press
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