This panel addresses the intersections of revolutionary upheaval and perceptions of the natural world in the early American context. It has often been argued that the Age of Revolutions brought about a new understanding of history (e.g. Koselleck). Where it was once seen as a natural and cyclical succession of rulers and constitutional forms, capitalized History as an historical metaconcept came to be considered a highly unpredictable process with one-time events that could be provoked by human agency. But, although history and revolution were denaturalized in this way, the cult of nature reached new heights during the Age of Revolutions. This interest in nature shows in the ideology of America as "nature's nation," the use of meteorological tropes to describe and avert revolutionary turmoil, and the popular success of what Susan Scott Parrish refers to as the "cultures of natural history" (comprising letters, poetry, early novels, and sermons inspired by natural history).
The panel explores this paradoxical conjunction of the natural rhetoric/discourse and the view of revolutions as unique events no longer tied to a naturally determined chronology by focusing attention on the interplay of natural history and other genres in the period 1700 to 1830. Participants are invited to consider the permutations of theories of environmental causation during this period (the idea that our moral and physical being is conditioned by the natural environment) and how these changes resonate with recent theorizing in the environmental humanities. They may also consider the use of natural metaphors, imagery and narratives in natural history, fiction and related genres as well as the transatlantic exchange of natural history knowledge as an instrument of knowledge making, imperial subjugation and subaltern resistance.
Michael Boyden, Associate Professor of American literature, Uppsala University