Thursday, August 18, 2022

The Lisbon Earthquake

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Earth Systems, Science & Society, Nature, History, History of Science, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

The BBC's REEL has a new video titled "The Earthquake That Changed the Course of History" (6m 56s).  One of the neglected areas in our study of history is a discipline known as environmental history--how nature influences human institutions and the various interactions of humans and the natural world. This is an example.

The 1755 earthquake of Lisbon had such a profound effect on the world that we are still feeling its impact today. As well as devastating one of the most important cities of the 18th century, it shook the thinking of the time.

Many believed the earthquake was a punishment from God. Others wondered if science was a better way to the understand the universe and how it works. We now associate these thinkers with the Age of Enlightenment, a period of history that led to the French Revolution and the American War of Independence.

This idea is included In the book "Earthquake Time Bombs" (Cambridge University Press), Robert Yeats (1931 - 2021). Here you may read a summary of that section of the book. It appears to have been written for the general public.

I was surprised to learn  that the King's "right-hand man," the Marquis of Pumbal * was given the task to rebuild a city that was nearly totally destroyed. It is fair to say that the science of seismology began with him. The Marquis took a scientific approach to the task sending out many questionnaires about observations people made before the onset of the destructive earthquake.

Take a look and see what you think about the compass of this claim. It certainly was a contributor to a change in thinking -- from supernatural to naturalism.

* The Wiki entry honestly notes deficiencies in the entry but of the ones I looked at, it was the most satisfying.

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