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Climate and History: Studies in Interdisciplinary History

William H. McNeill, PhD
JAMA. 1982;247(9):1347. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03320340093051.
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The idea that climatic change severe enough to affect human life may have occurred during historic times is still new among historians. Evidences of such changes have been derived by surprisingly diverse indirect routes: chemical analysis of stalactites from a cave in New Zealand, for example, and study of ocean bottom cores, bog pollen, tree rings, vintage and harvest dates, records of rivers freezing, and other such phenomena. What to make of such evidences, and how to translate observed variations into fluctuations of temperature and precipitation as measured today, remain controversial. The articles reprinted here from the Journal of Interdisciplinary History (spring 1980) contribute to that controversy and conveniently summarize what can be known and surmised about climate changes across past centuries.

Two schools of thought emerge. Some bold spirits are prepared to suggest significant connections between climate and historic changes. Alexander Wilson, for instance, suggests that his analysis of


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