Temperateness, Temperance, and the Tropics: Climate and Morality in the English Atlantic World, 1555-1705
This dissertation investigates the origins and elaboration of the fear of hot climates that attended England’s overseas expansion into the Atlantic world during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. From the middle of the sixteenth century, the English understood the climates of West Africa, the West Indies, and Virginia through interrelated concepts of seasonality and morality. They believed the cycles of summer and winter, wet and dry seasons, and days and nights cooled hot climates and made them habitable. As networks of trade and migration linked these regions during the seventeenth century, the English came to regard the climate of each region differently. By the eighteenth century, many regarded the African climate as hostile to European presence; in the West Indies they believed a process of bodily change adapted the bodies of newcomers to the climate; and a rising population of colonists born in Virginia characterized the climate of their native land as healthy and its heat merely a nuisance.Grounded in sources ranging from travel narratives to medical texts, government records to natural histories, the dissertation’s five chapters demonstrate how contemporaries deployed concepts of seasonality to define the torrid zone as “temperate” and habitable from the middle of the sixteenth century. While the English considered tropical West Africa to be temperate and habitable in the sixteenth century, they reassessed this view over the course of the seventeenth century, explaining disease mortality as a combination of seasonal phenomena and immoral behavior. In the West Indies the English understood the tropical climate through the lens of drunkenness, attributing the heavy disease mortality of English colonists in Barbados and Jamaica to their supposedly immoderate alcohol consumption. In temperate Virginia observers decried the colonists’ busy production of tobacco as a form of idleness, calling on them to heed the dictates of a warm climate to produce a diverse array of commodities not available in the northerly climate England. In the early eighteenth century the experiences of three writers on West Africa, the West Indies, and Virginia, respectively, demonstrate how English perceptions of the climate of each region had diverged during the preceding century.
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