UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

"To make the stubborn clod relent", or, Climate, character, and cultivation in early modern England Poliquin, Rachel Judy


Sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries English writers struggled with ancient medico-climatic philosophies that cast northern climates as deficient and their nature as substandard. Their peoples were believed to be barbarous, violent, and dull of wits. They were lacking in culture and political stability and knew nothing about agriculture. England's northern status was established by the classical division of the known world into three main latitudinal bands. This tripartite world served to accentuate the "natural" superiority of the Mediterranean littoral, the temperate golden mean between the deficient climatic conditions of northern and southern regions. Early modern English natural historians, including geographers, herbalists, medical practitioners, and agriculturists, used a range of ideologies and practices to re-interpret their country's climate, geography, and natural phenomena. As the character of a region's people and plants were both determined by their climate, such constructions of England's environmental conditions and nature sought to cast off England's more uncivil characteristics. Although they do not coalesce into a unified discourse, the constructions of English nature produced by various sub-disciplines of natural history formulate a philosophy that the English character could unshackle itself from its environment, and through ingenuity and industry reshape England as an abode of temperateness, control, and hard work. This transformation in character from nonagricultural barbarian to disciplined, domesticated landowner was made evident in the form of productive gardens and well-tilled fields. The English enclosure, cultivating both nature and character, developed as an expedient of imperialism, exporting England's newly establish modes and means of civility to the less "temperate" regions of the empire.

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