Ryan Nichols: The 1755 Lisbon Earthquake and Its Cultural Aftershocks

Lisbon is probably best known today as one of the cultural capitals of Europe, but it is also remembered as the victim of one of the deadliest and most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in European history. The disaster struck on 1st November 1755, registering an estimated 8.5-9.0 on the modern moment magnitude scale. It triggered fires and a tsunami, in the end claiming as many as 100,000 lives. The catastrophe was not just a literal earthquake, though; it was also a cultural earthquake, as it brought simmering religious tensions to the fore, threw Portugal’s imperial ambitions into disarray and even arguably changed the course of the Enlightenment in the latter half of the 18th century.

Today on The Provocateur I interview Ryan Nichols, associate professor of philosophy at California State University Fullerton, to discuss the cultural aftershocks of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. We explore the historical context of Lisbon and Portugal before the earthquake; the immediate effects of the disaster on Portuguese politics and society; discussions of the earthquake by 18th-century philosophers including Voltaire and Rousseau; how Ryan’s research in the cognitive science of religion can help explain the aftermath of the quake; and the wider cultural reverberations of this episode for the history and philosophy of science.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Araujo, A. C. (2006) ‘The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 – Public Distress and Political Propaganda’, E-journal of Portuguese History 4(1), article 3.

Braun, T. and J. Radner (eds.) (2005) The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755: Representations and Reactions. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation.

Chester, D. K. (2001) ‘The 1755 Lisbon Earthquake’, Progress in Physical Geography 25(3), pp. 363-383.

Dynes, R. R. (2000) ‘The Dialogue between Voltaire and Rousseau on the Lisbon Earthquake: The Emergence of a Social Science View’, International Journal of Emergencies and Disasters 18(1), pp. 97-115.

Festinger, L. et al. (1956) When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group That Predicted the End of the World. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Gutscher, M-A. (2004) ‘What Caused the Great Lisbon Earthquake?’ Science 305(5688), pp. 1247-1248.

Kelemen, D. (1999) ‘Why Are Rocks Pointy?: Children’s Preference for Teleological Explanations of the Natural World’, Developmental Psychology 35, pp. 1440-1453.

Marques, J. O. A. (2005) ‘The Paths of Providence: Voltaire and Rousseau on the Lisbon Earthquake’, Cadernos de Historia e Filosofia da Ciencia 3(15), pp. 33-57.

Neiman, S. (2004) Evil in Modern Thought. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (For a critique see Nichols 2014, below.)

Nichols, R. (2014) ‘Re-evaluating the Effects of the Lisbon Earthquake on Eighteenth-Century Minds: How Cognitive Science of Religion Improves Intellectual History with Hypothesis Testing Methods’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 82(4), pp. 970-1009.

Pereira, A. S. (2009) ‘The Opportunity of a Disaster: The Economic Impact of the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake’, The Journal of Economic History 69(2), pp. 466-499.

Rousseau, J-J. (1967) ‘Letter to Voltaire, 18 August 1756’, in Correspondance Complète de Jean Jacques Rousseau, vol. 4, ed. J. A. Leigh, trans. R. Spang, 37–50. Geneva, Switzerland: Voltaire Foundation.

Voltaire (2000 [1759]) ‘Candide, or Optimism’, in Candide and Related Texts, ed. and trans. D.Wootton, 1–83. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing.

Jordan Girardin: The Alps as Transnational Space (25th Episode) / Les Alpes comme un endroit transnational (25ème épisode)

French version below / Version française ci-dessous

The Alps might be most familiar to us as ‘the playground of Europe’ and indeed in modern times it is a vibrant hub for mountaineering, skiing and snowboarding. As many as 120 million people visit the Continent’s most famous mountain range each year and the tourism industry generates almost 50 billion euros in annual turnover, supporting around 10-12% of jobs in the Alpine economy. But this image of the Alps as a winter haven is a fairly recent invention. In the eighteenth century, the Alps were seen as a barren, even threatening, wilderness and it took many decades for the region to evolve into the tourist destination we know today.

This week on The Provocateur I talk to Jordan Girardin, who has just completed his PhD in History at the University of St Andrews, to explore the transnational history of travel in the Alps from the 1750s to the 1830s. We discuss the attitudes of both scientific explorers and leisure travellers to the Alps in this period; the varied and sometimes amusing reactions of locals to the new wave of mass interest in the Alps; and the implications of considering the Alps as a transnational space. The episode marks a mini-milestone for The Provocateur as the 25th show in the series, so I thought I’d stay true to the transnational spirit of the topic and record a French interview with Jordan as well, which you can hear below.

You can listen to the (English) podcast here: 

Version française

Dans l’image populaire, les Alpes sont ‘le cour de récréation de l’Europe’ et c’est vrai que, de nos jours, elles sont un centre dynamique de l’alpinisme, du ski et du snowboard. Chaque année, les montagnes les plus célèbres du Continent attirent jusqu’à 120 millions personnes et l’industrie touristique amène jusqu’à 50 milliards d’euros, ce qui soutient 10-12% des emplois dans l’économie de la région. Mais cette image des Alpes comme un paradis hivernal n’est qu’une invention assez récente. Dans le 18ème siècle, on perçevait les Alpes comme une étendue sauvage, même menaçante, et il fallait attendre des décennies avant que la région se soit transformée à la destination touristique du présent.

Dans cet épisode du Provocateur je parle avec Jordan Girardin, qui vient de finir son doctorat en histoire à l’Université de St Andrews en Écosse. Ensemble, nous allons explorer l’histoire transnationale de la voyage alpine des années 1750 aux années 1830.  On va discuter les attitudes aux Alpes des scientifiques ainsi que des passagers de loisirs durant cette période; les réponses variées, même drôles, des gens locaux à cette nouvelle vague d’intérêt aux Alpes; et les implications de la considération des Alpes comme un endroit forcément transnational. J’ai fait cet entretien bilingue anglais-français avec Jordan en vue du fait que ceci est le 25ème épisode du podcast!

Vous pourriez écouter au podcast (en français) ci-dessous:

Further Reading / Lectures supplémentaires:

Bourdon, E. (2011) Le voyage et la découverte des Alpes : Histoire de la construction d’un savoir (1492 – 1713). Paris: Presses de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne.

Gugerli, D. & D. Speich (2002) Topografien der Nation: Politik, kartografische Ordnung und Landschaft im 19. Jahrhundert. Zurich: Chronos.

Mathieu, J. & S. Boscani Leoni (eds.) (2005) Die Alpen! Zur europäischen Wahrnehmungsgeschichte seit der RenaissanceLes Alpes ! Pour une histoire de la perception européenne depuis la Renaissance. Oxford: Peter Lang.

Pyatt, E. (1984) The Passage of the Alps: from Hannibal to the Motorway. London: Robert Hale.

Reichler, C. (2013) Les Alpes et leurs imagiers: Voyage et histoire du regard. Lausanne: Presses Polytechniques et Universitaires Romandes.

Ring, J. (2000) How the English Made the Alps. London: John Murray.

Viazzo, P. P. (1989) Upland Communities: Environment, Population and Social Structure in the Alps since the Sixteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.