Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

A Cultural History of Thunderstorms

How did the invention and implementation of the lightning rod change the perception of thunderstorms on a scientific, technical, religious and artistic level, in the Netherlands and beyond, during the period 1752-1830?

Duration
2016  -   2020
Contact
Jan Wim Buisman

As a scholar of early modern religious mentalities, Jan Wim Buisman is particularly interested in the impact of natural disasters on views of God, man, and nature, especially during the Age of Enlightenment. His current research entails a broad study of the history of the introduction of Benjamin Franklin’s lightning-rod in Europe and its important consequences for the perception of thunderstorms on a cultural, technical, ethnological, and religious level

This project consists of three parts: a) science and technology b) religion c) art.

The focus is on the ways technology and science changed relations between the concepts of God, nature, and man. Very generally speaking, a religion of fear gave way to a religion of love. Nature was considered less a menace than a friend, implicitly foreshadowing the Romantic period. Put in more safe life conditions, man tended to hold more optimistic views of himself and dared to play artistically even with dangerous, sublime subjects such as thunderstorms.

Meanwhile, this project challenges the simple evolutionary concept of progress from magic to religion and then to science. Not only 18th century religion but also 18th century science prove to have absorbed more or less subtle forms of rationalized magic.

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