- The Frigid Golden Age: Climate Change, the Little Ice Age, and the Dutch Republic, 1560–1720 by Dagomar Degroot
“Earth’s climate is a fantastically complex jigsaw puzzle, and every part contributes to the whole” (p. 26). In his book “The Frigid Golden Age,” Dagomar Degroot, associate professor of environmental history at Georgetown University, offers a detailed analysis of the relations between the period called the “Little Ice Age” and the rise of the Dutch Republic. Degroot is one of the co-founders of the Climate History Network, an organization of scholars who study past climate changes. His book starts with the long-term focus of previous scholarship on the Low Countries and offers an overview of the current state of research.
The volume is subdivided in three parts with the keywords commerce, conflict, and culture. After a short and insightful introduction about “Crisis and Opportunity in a Changing Climate” (pp. 1–21), in chapter 1, Degroot defines his understanding of “The Little Ice Age” (pp. 22–51). Therefore he describes the key engines of atmospheric and oceanic circulations such as North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC), El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) etc., and their influence on the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, and biosphere. Having thus clarified the preconditions, he turns to the consequences [End Page 630] of climatic changes in the three areas mentioned above: commerce, conflicts, and culture. One of the most important sources of this book are ship’s logbooks as these contain a remarkable amount of information on weather conditions.
In part I “Commerce and Climate Change,” Degroot describes in two chapters the influence of the climate on trade connections. In chapter 2 “Reaching Asia in a Stormy, Chilly Climate” (pp. 55–108), he shows that traveling by sea was more important to the Dutch republic’s coastal provinces than to most other European regions. In chapter 3 “Sailing, Floating, Riding, and Skating through a Cooler Europe” (pp. 109–151), Degroot gives an impressive overview on how diverse the Dutch transportation system was, using different kinds of waterborne travel and road nets. The Dutch farmers, engineers, sailors, and laborers found creative solutions to travel even in harsh weather conditions, since movement was essential to their economy and culture.
The second part of the book deals with “Conflict and Climate Change” especially during the Eighty Years’ War, when different periods of Cooling and Warming affected the Wars of Independence (pp. 154–195). Degroot is able to show that climate change was a catalyst but rarely a cause of military victories and defeats. During the Anglo-Dutch Antagonism in the years 1652–1688 (pp. 196–249) frequent westerlies allowed English warships of unprecedented size to win more than twice as many battles, yet after a change in environmental conditions easterly gales and winds (“the Protestant wind”) helped the Dutch invasions across the English Channel. Nevertheless “no wars were ever won or lost solely because of climate change” (p. 247), but forecasts of wind directions were useful for choosing times for sea battles.
In the third part, Degroot describes the consequences of single extreme events induced through climate change and their cultural expressions in painting, technology, and text production. In chapter 6 “Tracing and Painting the Little Ice Age” (pp. 253–276), he states that Dutch winter landscapes were not quite the straightforward representation of the Little Ice Age that they appear to us nowadays, however they reveal how Dutch artists thought about weather and how they perceived the consequences of climate change. In the last chapter “Texts, Technologies, and Climate Change” (pp. 277–299), Degroot stresses that relationships between climate change and culture can be difficult to pin down.
In his “Lessons from Ice and Gold” (pp. 300–309) he concludes that the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic was framed by the Grindelwald [End Page 631] Fluctuation and the Maunder Minimum, two severe cold phases. The reasons why the Dutch prospered in this time were complex, and...