God and the Weather

During the biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History this past weekend I got the chance to hear T.J. Tomlin, University of Northern Colorado history professor and shedworker extraordinaire, present a paper on his current book project on almanacs and popular religion in eighteenth-century America.  The paper was entitled “Popular Culture and Religious Authority in Early America.”

While I was listening to T.J. deliver his talk, I sent off the following tweet: @johnfea1

After listening to TJ Tomlin’s talk on almanacs in the 18th c., I think we need a good book on weather and religion in early America. 

Well, lo and behold, it looks as if someone is already working on this topic.  “The Beehive,” the blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society, reports on the work of Lauri Coleman, a graduate student at the College of William and Mary.  Here is a taste:

On Wednesday, 3 October, research fellow Lauri Coleman from The College of William and Mary, gave her brown-bag lunch talk, “ ‘Some are Weatherwise, Some are Otherwise’: Popular Almanacs and Weather Cosmology in Mid-eighteenth Century America.” Coleman’s dissertation research explores how mid eighteenth-century New Englanders, from the 1740s to the 1780s,  experienced and made sense of the weather generally and natural disasters such as draughts and earthquakes in particular. New Englanders during this period experienced the weather in two distinct yet interconnected ways: “providentially” (as a sign of God intervening in human affairs) and through the discourse of natural philosophy, scientific observation through which divine laws might be discerned. Coleman argues that these two frameworks for understanding weather – one through which God is understood to act disruptively and violently, the other through which God is seen to act benevolently and in an orderly fashion – exist together in collective consciousness throughout the period.  In the face of natural disasters, these two interpretations were often pitted against one another in public discussion (in newspapers and sermons, for example) as citizens attempted to make sense of the event.

Sounds like a great project.  Maybe Lauri and T.J. can get together for a panel on almanacs at the next major historical conference. I would attend that session.