Famine, Cholera, Opium, Romanticism and the Volcano That Binds Them
April 13, 2014 11:05 AM   Subscribe

On 10 April 1815, Tambora produced the largest eruption known on the planet during the past 10,000 years. As described in Gillen D'Arcy Wood's new book, the explosion was only the first dose of Tambora's destructive power. In terms of its enduring presence in folklore, as well as its status in the scientific literature, 1816’s cold summer was the most significant meteorological event of the nineteenth century. After the tsunami and famine came cholera, opium, and failed Arctic expeditions.

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posted by shoesfullofdust (13 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Was there such a thing as a successful 19th Century Arctic expedition? I guess, if you didn't get eaten, you were in the tall corn.
posted by thelonius at 11:12 AM on April 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

An English professor specializing in the Romantic era, Wood fell into this research in 2007... "Like a lot of fruitful human endeavors, this book originated in feelings of shame: I felt ashamed that I knew nothing about Tambora," Wood said. "Here I was supposed to be a scholar of the Romantic era, and 1815 is right in the heart of this period. Yet I didn't even know where this volcano was."

I guess my shame is not as great, but I didn't know about this either.

As regards successful 19th century artic expeditions, the great Norweigian polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen led a successful expedition across Greenland in the 1880s. Eschewing the complex siege tactics of the British, Nansen used skis, wore the clothing of the Scandinavian Sami people, traveled light and was the first person to cross the Greenland ice cap. No one was eaten.
posted by three blind mice at 11:53 AM on April 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

So acts of nature in and of themselves can cause drastic climate changes in the short term. Hmmm, food for thought.
posted by Renoroc at 12:11 PM on April 13, 2014

See also Krakatoa, (same region and just under 70 years later) and global climate effects.
posted by adamvasco at 12:16 PM on April 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've been fascinated by this subject for a while and will definitely check out the book. Thanks!
posted by stargell at 2:54 PM on April 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Fridtjof Nansen - A man of action and vision. Deserves a post unto himself.
posted by shoesfullofdust at 3:19 PM on April 13, 2014

Villagers in Vermont survived on hedgehogs...

They must have hunted the hedgehogs to extinction, because as I write this hedgehogs are not considered native to the Americas.

First the mammoth, and then the hedgehog. You maniacs! Oh, damn you! God damn you all to HELL!
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:39 PM on April 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

I knew about the volcano and year without summer but not about cholera, that is absolutely fascinating. Thank you for this!
posted by fshgrl at 4:43 PM on April 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Curley, hedgehog is a now deprecated New Englander regionalism for the very native North American porcupine.

I am a bit skeptical that the weather caused the cholera, as described, although it surely may have played a part in it becoming an epidemic. I'd like to see the literature on that.

Pinatubo also had some mild, but measurable, effects.
posted by dhartung at 6:17 PM on April 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm reading The Year Without Summer: 1816 right now, inspired by our tough winter.
posted by vitabellosi at 9:01 PM on April 13, 2014

All my favourite things, brought together in one post! I'll go through this with the attention it deserves when I'm back at home tonight. Mr daisyk has been working on an RPG setting in 1816 Switzerland for a while now, and I need to prod him into releasing it as a PDF. Switzerland was already poor and agriculturally non-productive at the time; the Year Without a Summer tipped it over into full-blown famine.

shoesfullofdust, if no one else feels like making a Fridtjof Nansen FPP, I'll have a look at that too. He's a legend.
posted by daisyk at 2:20 AM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I learned everything I know about Tambora thanks to anachro-punk cello bands.
posted by Jilder at 3:08 AM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

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