The Age of Reason,  science,  logic, and progress emerges in early modern Europe.   According to Francis Bacon, it was the printing press — along with gunpowder and the compass — that changed the world forever. The printing press allowed old superstitions to be challenged and new ideas to be introduced.

cropped-1.5.Franklin.jpgThis is the time when Benjamin Franklin — scientist and printer —  begins his fight against water pollution.  It’s an era when Franklin’s friend,  George Baker, uses scientific detective work to track down the source of the notorious Devonshire Colic. It’s a time when James Lind identifies the causes of scurvy in the British Navy.  It’s a time when John Howard argues that diseases in the slums and prisons also affect the rich, and that it in the pragmatic interests of the rich to care for the poor.

The Enlightenment begins with a philosophy that values reason above faith and direct inquiry more than revealed wisdom.  Science takes its place alongside scripture, rather than beneath it, in contemporary estimation.

More people realize that there could be “other kinds of glory than that of victory in battle,” as Benjamin Thompson (Count Rumford) said.  They begin to work for reform, and for other people, rather than conquest.  Bernardo Ramazzini  is one example in his study and caring for victims of occupational disease.

The Enlightenment era merges into the Industrial Revolution between the late 1700s and early 1800s.  On the cusp of this rapid change, Rev. Thomas Malthus famously predicts that food and resources will run out as populations explode.  Yet, around the same time, James Watt’s improvements to the steam engine set  the stage for the Industrial Revolution, which creates social havoc even as it  expands the capacity to provide for larger populations than Malthus ever imagined.

Essential Reading

Brimblecombe, Peter, 1988 The Big Smoke, London:, Routledge.

Cronon, William, 1985. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. New York: Hill and Wang.

Kolodny, A. 1984. The Land Before Her: Fantasy and Experience of the American Frontiers, 1630-1860. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press.

Markham, Adam, 1994 A Brief History of Pollution, New York: St. Martin’s

McMahon, Michal, 1994 “Publick Service versus Mans Properties: Dock Creek and the Origins of Urban Technology in Eighteenth Century Philadelphia,” in Judith A. McGaw, ed., Early American Technology: Making & Doing Things from the Colonial Era to 1850, Chapel Hill, N.C. University of N.C. Press.

Nash, R. 1982.Wilderness and the American Mind. 3rd ed. New Haven: Yale University Press.