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Americans and Their Weather$
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William B. Meyer

Print publication date: 2000

Print ISBN-13: 9780195131826

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195131826.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 08 December 2021

Climates, Cultures, and Founding Myths

Climates, Cultures, and Founding Myths

ONE Climates, Cultures, and Founding Myths (p.17)
Americans and Their Weather

William B. Meyer

Oxford University Press

The size, scope, and variety of changes in weather-society relations that history records are a great embarrassment to climatic determinism, for they have occurred without the weather itself becoming drastically different. But if determinism cannot account well for change, it surely holds more promise in explaining continuity. And indeed a pattern that goes back to the earliest years of Anglo-American settlement has long been a favorite illustration for climatic determinists of how environments shape societies. The Atlantic seaboard communities in the North and South of what is now the United States have for centuries differed markedly in their political culture and social structure. The environment has often been held responsible according to a general law supposedly governing such matters. Here as elsewhere, the enduring influence of heat made the South "traditional and conservative"; that of cold made the North "innovative and progressive." But it is conceding nothing to determinism to note that those contrasts do indeed have something to do with climate. They are merely related to it by another and far more tortuous pathway, time- and place-specific rather than universal, than the one suggested. The contrasts were not imposed by different climates molding originally similar groups of settlers and their descendants. Rather, the mixes of resources and hazards that different climates seemed to offer in one particular period attracted different kind of colonists and colonization, giving rise to different institutions and societies whose effects are still apparent. The contrasts between North and South do not bear out any timeless truth about climate-society relations, nor do they reflect anything that higher and lower latitudes always mean for their inhabitants. They reflect, rather, what those latitudes happened to mean in a certain time and place and social order, what they meant to the elites of Tudor and Stuart England. Late-sixteenth-century England was not in an enviable position economically. It could feed and clothe itself, but its surplus productions for export were few and unimpressive. The most important of them was woollen cloth, which was not an article much in demand in the warmer Mediterranean countries that supplied England with many of its necessities and luxuries: wine, sugar, olive and other oils, citrus fruits, silks, and spices.

Keywords:   Africa, Black Americans, Caribbean, Fishing, German Americans, Hail, Indigo, Jamestown

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