Early Modern Times – a perfect storm

Early Modern Times - a perfect storm

Dear readers,

Given the frequency of destructive hurricanes and typhoons partly as a result of human-made climate change, we may overlook the catastrophic weather events of the past. This recent article by Lucy Jones, however, stresses (as in ‘storm and stress’) the Great Storm of 1703, which swept through southern Britain and northwestern continental Europe and caused widespread devastation. Jones recounts the myriad effects of the furious winds, including shipwrecks (pictured above at the Goodwin Sands), uprooted trees, pond-fish blown into the air while birds were blown to the ground, a cow blown into a tree’s upper branches (living up to its ‘bough-vine’ nature), and some 8,000-15,000 human beings who perished, including around 6,000 sailors. According to Hubert Lamb and Knud Frydendahl in their 1991 book Historic Storms of the North Sea, British Isles and Northwest Europe, the 1703 storm was only the fifth worst recorded to date in the region. But the storm has ‘remained in collective memory’ perhaps because of the excessive damage to heavily populated areas of Britain, and because of Daniel Defoe’s 1704 book The Storm–based on his own and others’ eyewitness accounts. At the time, the British asked themselves whether the tempest was God’s punishment–in Defoe’s words, ‘The Winds are a Part of the Works of God by Nature’–but climatologist Dennis Wheeler suggests that it may have been caused in part by temperature changes during the ‘Little Ice Age’ which gripped Early Modern Europe: as Wheeler states, ‘Certainly as far as the British Isles were concerned, the 1680s and 1690s were arguably the coldest two decades since the ice retreated about 12,000 years ago’; and this may have been linked to a hurricane in New England which then migrated across the Atlantic. Or perhaps the real causes of the Great Storm lie in Britain’s past, and its ‘long-winded’ history of all the kings and queens who ‘rained’ there?

For a more contemporary example of breezy bluster, Sarah Toye (EMSP’s resident Golden Age Pirate Historian) has drawn (and quartered) my attention to the forthcoming book by Sam Conniff Allende, Be More Pirate. As the synopsis on the book’s website puts it, ‘Be More Pirate draws parallels between the strategy and innovation of legends like Henry Morgan and Blackbeard with modern rebels, like Elon Musk, Malala and Blockchain, and reveals how to harness and apply their tactics to life and work today, and tomorrow.’ Would Malala Yousafzai (activist, Nobel Prize laureate, and a 2015 recipient of an honorary degree from King’s) truly be honoured to know that she is being compared with the violent, volatile international criminal Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard, who infamously placed burning fuses in his hair and beard to strike terror into his victims? Or with Henry Morgan, who served the interests of both the British Empire and himself by engaging in widespread piracy, pillage, sexual violence, murder, and torture throughout the Spanish Main? Perhaps the book might spawn such sequels as Be More Serial Killer/Rapist/Torturer/Terrorist/Imperialist, but I doubt the author could still be so unaccountably cheeky in his absurd and uninformed appropriation of history. Or better yet, the book’s title might be usefully abridged to Be a Moron.

In our classes this week: In EMSP 2000, Laura Penny goes relevantly high-fashion in her examination of the Treatise on the Influence of the Passions by ‘Germane de Style’. Kathryn Morris‘s students in EMSP 3000 will examine why the star of the Anchorman movies and other Hollywood comedies let his offspring be raised by animals in the wild, in their discussion of ‘Ferrell’s children’. Her class on ‘The Body in Early Modern Europe’ examines source-materials on disease and death by Daniel Defoe and Samuel Pepys, who witnessed the effects of eating too many sweets (including mince pies) in seventeenth-century England in their accounts of the Great Plaque of London. And the Witchcraft class begins its consideration of ‘Witchcraft and Gender’, i.e., what put the ‘male’ in Kramer & Sprenger’s Malleus Maleficarum.

Jannette Vusich will look at the practice of cloning the late singer of such hits as ‘Purple Rain’ and ‘Raspberry Beret’ in her class on ‘Reproductive Prince-making’; and probe the technique employed by Leonardo Da Vinci in cloning a juicy red fruit/plant first created in the labs of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC, known as ‘sfumato’. In EMSP 4000, we conclude our discussion of Edmund Burke’s letter concerning the use of mirrors to capture images of turntables at a popular Atlantic Canadian used clothing outlet, Reflections on the Revolutions in Frenchys. And my class on The Pirate & Piracy investigates imaginary eighteenth-century accounts of freebooting corsairs capturing cargoes of rubber, ‘Piracy in Early Modern Friction’.

‘Til next week,

Simon Kow

Director, Early Modern Studies Program

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