Tobias Menely, History's Atmosphere: The Matter of Air and the Unbounded World in Thomson's Seasons

Tobias Menely, Miami University
Tobias Menely, Miami University
Center for Renaissance Studies Programs
Eighteenth-Century Seminar
Saturday, February 22, 2014

2 pm

Towner Fellows Lounge

Tobias Menely, Miami University

By the early eighteenth century, decades before the discovery of its constituent gases, air was recognized as mundane matter: heterogeneous and changeable, subject to human manipulation, the “subtle” substance of history rather than spirit. In James Thomson’s long locodescriptive poem The Seasons (1726-46), the atmosphere—the cyclic year, the world’s varied climes, the global circulation of wind—is the stable context in which history, “the rising world of trade,” unfurls. Yet Thomson also anticipates the modern energy regime and so another vision of history in which the atmosphere is not the context but the object of human action, a condition briefly disclosed in the moment of combustion, the energy-producing transformation of a solid into a gaseous vapor. Professor Menely suggests that the Romantic re-idealization of air—a naturalization of the evidently anthropogenic, a return to an idea of air as ethereal or auratic—underlies the challenges we face, in the Anthropocene, of learning, once again, to regard air as the matter of history.

A reception will follow the seminar.

Learn more about our speaker: Tobias Menely, Miami University

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Organized by Timothy Campbell, University of Chicago; Lisa A. Freeman, University of Illinois at Chicago; John Shanahan, DePaul University; and Helen Thompson, Northwestern University.

Faculty and graduate students of Center for Renaissance Studies consortium institutions may be eligible to apply for travel funds to attend CRS programs or to do research at the Newberry. Each member university sets its own policies and deadlines; contact your Representative Council member in advance for details.

Cost and registration information: 

This program is free and open to the public, but space is limited and registration in advance is required. Papers will be precirculated electronically to registrants.

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