Early modern climatic cooling coincided with the European age of exploration, and it was in the Arctic that the interactions between these human and environmental movements found their fullest expression. This project will develop an environmental history that explains how Europeans were able to explore and exploit the Arctic in unprecedented ways during a climate that should have discouraged those activities. It will be the first comprehensive study to link climate change to the human history of the seventeenth-century Arctic.
Using a wide range of interdisciplinary sources and techniques, in the first phase of this project I will reconstruct the history of the early modern Arctic climate with unprecedented precision, linking fluctuations in average temperature to shifts in the distribution of sea ice, regional wind patterns, and ocean currents. In the second phase, I will investigate how environmental changes influenced, and were influenced by, the increasingly lucrative penetration of the Arctic by European explorers and entrepreneurs. I will unravel relationships between climate change and Arctic journeys of exploration, whaling, military competition, and the fur trade. Finally, I will examine how their experiences in the north may have stimulated new understandings of climate change on both shores of the Atlantic. The completed project will help inform present and future attempts at adaptation in the face of northern climate change.
Dagomar Degroot is an assistant professor of environmental history at Georgetown University. He directs HistoricalClimatology.com and the Climate History Network.
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