Imagined Disasters: Thinking Globally in the Early Enlightenment

Imagined Disasters: Thinking Globally in the Early Enlightenment

Lydia Barnett's first book project, Imagined Disasters: Thinking Globally in the Early Enlightenment, argues that the imagination of global natural disasters opened up a new way of thinking globally in the early Enlightenment. Imagined Disasters adopts a transnational approach that takes into account the differing perspectives of Protestant and Catholic scholars who were embedded in European and Euro-American networks of intellectual exchange. Tracing the circulation of ideas about global disaster through these transnational and multi-confessional scholarly networks allows Barnett to critically reevaluate several of the processes deemed key to the transition from premodernity to modernity: cosmopolitanism, nationalism, globalization, and secularization. Imagined Disasters also traces the idea of the Anthropocene back to this moment in Enlightenment science, when several scholars argued that the force of human sin was capable of completely transforming the global environment.


Lydia Barnett's second book project, tentatively titled The Work of Science, examines the textual and visual rhetorical strategies that were used to represent and also to obscure different kinds of scientific labor and knowledge-work in early modern Europe. Ranging from the discourse of God’s labor to the fieldworkers who unwittingly supplied Europe’s naturalists with fossils, this book shows how ideas and practices of classed labor shaped the rhetoric and practice of the field sciences. It argues that the emerging rhetoric of empirical fieldwork and the construction of epistemic authority based on emplacement in a local landscape worked to both highlight and also to efface the labor and knowledge of lower-status people who were also intimately emplaced—sometimes forcefully so—in those same environments. It brings to light the peasants, servants, family members, and slaves who participated, knowingly or not, in the production of knowledge about local and global environments from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries.