It might be easy to think that the current climate crisis erupted in the twentieth century. But scholars of early America know that its roots lie deeper. European colonists throughout the Americas fantasized about their ability to alter the climate, often through large-scale landscape transformations. The term “Plantationocene” has been proposed to link early modern extractive colonial practices and Atlantic chattel slavery to long-term climate change and ecological crises. Britain’s colonists established the land-use patterns that would eventually burn the eastern forests in the seventeenth century, and mined Anthracite coal in Pennsylvania as early 1775. The expansion of meat-centric diets began with Iberian forms of livestock raising and butchery developed in early Spanish America’s farms and cities. Climate science likewise has early American roots, emerging alongside global commercial expansion and colonialism in the early modern period. What we now call the “greenhouse effect” was first identified in the 1850s by New York women’s rights activist Eunice Foote. Early American connections can also be found for some of the proposed solutions. Proponents of plans to reflect sunlight back into space have to contend with histories of the destruction wrought in the western hemisphere by the volcano Tambora in 1816, the “Year without a Summer”; activists working to fight pipeline expansion on Indigenous land contend with the long history of genocidal treaties and the longer history of Indigenous ecological knowledge; and climate cases in U.S. courts hinge on whether the founders implicitly included a right to a stable climate in their framing of the Constitution. As scholars of early America, we aim to respond to the current climate crisis and better understand the depth and ramifications of its roots in the early modern era through a workshop dedicated to the topic. Co-organized by the McNeil Center for Early American Studies and the Environmental Historians’ Action Collaborative and supported by the Early Modern Studies Institute at the University of Southern California and the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities, we hope to trace these connections and to create resources that historians, literary scholars, and others can use to integrate climate crisis history into their teaching and research.
For more information or to register, please visit the conference website. The link is below.