Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change

Climate and history: a critical review of historical climatology and climate change historiography

Journal Article


This paper provides a critical analysis of recent climate history (or historical climatology) scholarship. It identifies four key subfields in this historiography of climate change. First, it examines scholarship on climate reconstructions that use a variety of innovative historical sources to document past climatic conditions. Second, it analyzes scholarship on social impacts and responses to climate change. This literature is prolific with significant attention given to climatic variability and climatic or weather‐related disasters. Third, the paper discusses research on the uses and abuses of climate knowledge, such as innovations in meteorology and climatology as well as ways that Western climate knowledge helped justify colonialism and perpetuate racism. Fourth, the paper examines research on cultural constructions and perceptions of climate. This includes analysis of diverse climatic understandings and climate narratives that have varied across time and space. While the climate historiography is steadily expanding and constantly probing new areas, this paper contends that the field overall would benefit from a stronger emphasis on social history to examine race, class, and gender in climate history while also focusing on how social relations and power dynamics affect human–climate interactions. Additionally, it argues that the uncovering of more diverse climate meanings and narratives, partly through better social history, could both enrich the historiography and contribute to today's broader discussions about global climate change in the past and future. WIREs Clim Change 2012 doi: 10.1002/wcc.171

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