The first century of Spanish, French, and English expeditions into North America encountered unexpected climatic and environmental differences during an era of usual cold and drought. These challenges aggravated conflicts with Indigenous Americans and brought decades of disaster to attempted invasions and colonies, including the infamous “starving time” at Jamestown in 1609-1610. Why did it take so long for Europeans to come to grips with the climates of North America, and how did they eventually come to understand them?
This talk examines this question, with a focus on the transfer of Indigenous knowledge of weather and climate. Explicit evidence for such learning is conspicuous by its very absence. However, indirect evidence suggests that early expeditions came to recognize and adapt to North America’s stronger seasons and extreme weather only when and where they could communicate with Indigenous Americans. This talk considers what that communication about climate and weather might have involved and why it proved so difficult.
Sam White, Professor of History at Ohio State University
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