Volcanoes in Eighteenth-Century Europe

BookVolcanoes in Eighteenth-Century Europe

Volcanoes in Eighteenth-Century Europe

An Essay in Environmental Humanities

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, 2019:07


July 8th, 2019

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This study explores the explosive history of volcanoes and volcanic thought in eighteenth-century Europe, arguing that the topic of the volcano informed almost all areas of human enquiry and endeavour at the time.

Encountered on the Grand Tour, sought out by scientific explorers or endured by local populations in southern Italy and Iceland, erupting volcanoes were a physical reality for many Europeans in the eighteenth-century. For many others, they represented the very image of overwhelming natural power, whether this was ultimately attributed to spiritual or material causes. As such, the volcano proved an effective and versatile ‘tool for thinking’ in a century which ushered in modernity on several fronts: continental tourism, new earth sciences, the sublime and picturesque in art, industrial and political revolution, the conception of the modern nation-state, and early intimations of environmental and climate change. But the volcano also gives us, in the twenty-first century, a privileged site (as both topography and topos) at which we can reconnect disparate and divided fields of research across the sciences and the humanities.

Drawing on a rich variety of multi-lingual primary sources and the latest critical thinking, this study combines material and symbolic readings of eighteenth-century volcanism, constantly shifting frameworks, so as to consider this topical object through different disciplinary perspectives. The volcano is clearly transnational; this research also demonstrates how it is fundamentally transdisciplinary.

'A masterful work rich in detail, organized with compelling logic, and presented with vivid clarity.'
Theodore Ziolkowski, Modern Language Review

Author Information

Dr David McCallam is Reader in French Eighteenth-Century Studies at the University of Sheffield, UK. His main areas of research are eighteenth-century French literature (Chamfort, Laclos, Chénier, Sade); eighteenth-century travel writing (Alps, southern Italy, eastern Adriatic); and eighteenth-century environmental humanities (volcanoes, avalanches, clouds).

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
List of illustrations9
1. From locus classicus to cosmopolitan picnic site23
The disturbing discovery of Herculaneum and Pompeii27
The classical and empirical on Etna33
Curiosity and katabasis37
Gothic picnics on the volcano: Winckelmann and Sade41
Tourist picnics on Vesuvius44
From picnic sites to the land of cockaigne51
Incommensurability and measure57
2. Two modern ‘Plinies’ and the empirical turn63
On the influence of Kircher and chemistry64
Volcanological theories based on seawaters and electricity72
The basalt controversy and the empirical turn82
Volcanological networks and rival schools of thought89
3. On the volcanic sublime, its art and artifice99
Eighteenth-century theories of the sublime: Burke and Kant102
The Alpine sublime and the volcanic sublime108
The volcano as tableau110
The sublime volcano in art114
Artificial volcanoes122
The uncanny fascination with lava125
Industrial volcanoes128
From the sublime spectacle to the sublime spectator132
4. More heat than light? Natural philosophies of volcanism139
An anti-clerical volcano144
The volcano of popular passions150
The volcano as a source of enlightenment155
Prometheus versus Empedocles163
5. A volcanology of revolution 1789-1794171
Staging the volcano of revolution179
The volcano and the Terror187
June 1794: Vesuvius and the Terror198
6. Volcanic Iceland: conquering Hekla and surviving Laki209
Banks on Staffa and Hekla217
The deadliest volcano: Laki 1783225
Lived experiences of the Laki eruption and its effects 1783-1784230
Eighteenth-century explanations for volcanogenic weather239