Turning superstition into science. Atmospheric tides science and the transformation of astrology in Enlightenment Continental Europe

01 January 2019 → Ongoing
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
Research disciplines
  • Humanities
    • History
Project description

The period 1700-1840 witnessed the flowering of a new ‘atmospheric tides’ science. The basic
assumption of this science was that Sun and Moon not only generate significant tidal effects in the
earth’s seas, but in its atmosphere as well. These atmospheric tides (henceforth AT) were held
responsible for important weather changes, as well as for a variety of health issues in the human
body (e.g. insanity, epilepsy, epidemics), thus rendering the latter predictable and manageable. So
far, little research has been carried out on this new Enlightenment science - undeservedly so, for the
history of AT science offers a unique opportunity to clarify important aspects of the emergence of
modern scientific culture. More specifically, AT science offers a privileged view on the precise way in
which official science appropriated and transformed 'pseudo-science' for its own purposes in the
Enlightenment. AT science's practitioners, audiences and critics all saw considerable continuities
between the old astrology and the new discipline on the conceptual, methodological, social, and
cultural level. Focusing on AT science in France and Italy in the period 1750-1830, this project seeks
to generate a far more refined understanding of the apparent 'death' of astrology in the 18th
century, and to offer an alternative narrative of appropriation and transformation into the 19th