Gruff boreas, deadly calms: A medical perspective on winds and the Victorians

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    The medical connotations of winds have been known since antiquity. In the Western tradition, the Hippocratic opus put emphasis on the pathological exposure to winds which were considered as contributing to the so-called 'atmospheric constitutions', defined by the nature and intensity of the prevailing diseases. While such views continued to inform medical environmentalism well into the modern period, the early colonial encounters with extreme atmospheres brought to attention the extraordinary qualities of the non-European winds. The winds were individual entities and their pathological agency was associated with geographical origins. The article looks at the period in which such cultural understandings of the wind underwent a profound shift and eventual decline. Owing to the changing public importance of scientific medicine in Victorian Britain, the environmental meanings that had previously coexisted in an epistemic continuum collapsed into a unitary theory that reduced the wind's syncretic pathology to the physical qualities of atmospheric air. The declining interest in medical analyses of wind qua wind marked the end of a 'colloquial' meteorology and the end of winds as 'natural' kinds endowed with geographical footprints and peculiar 'ways of blowing'. © Royal Anthropological Institute 2007.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)S147-S164
    JournalJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2007


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