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Crafting the Anthropocene: Environmental Anxieties and Climate Realities in Nineteenth-Century France

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Although ‘Anthropocene’ is a relatively new term, the idea of anthropogenic environmental change has a long, rich and underappreciated history. This study traces the development of a narrative of human-caused climate change in southern France in the first half of the nineteenth century that mirrored today’s rhetoric of the Anthropocene, and it exposes the interplay of social and environmental forces in the establishment of this narrative. Drawing on natural archives and instrumental data as well as traditional archival sources and contrasting these indices with literature on Alpine flooding from the period, it maps French intellectual environmental perceptions against the realities of climate and weather in early nineteenth-century Provence. In this context, concerns about human influence on the climate stemmed less from actual climate change than from major social transformations, which made inhabitants of Provence increasingly aware of and susceptible to environmental forces, and flooding in particular. Through this case study, the paper exposes the importance of recognising and accounting for human perceptions in charting environmental change. It also contributes to environmental history by identifying late Little Ice Age conditions in Mediterranean France, and it reaffirms the value of an interdisciplinary, integrative approach to the study of climate change.
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Keywords: Anthropocene; France; Little Ice Age; Mediterranean; climate; floods

Appeared or available online: May 25, 2020

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