A Diluvial Land. Earth Histories in the Early Modern Low Countries, 1550-1830.
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, scholars and naturalists reimagined the history of the earth—crafting new chronologies, amassing new evidence, and resituating humans within the history of nature. This dissertation looks to the early modern Low Countries to argue that new ideas about Earth’s past drew on two principal sources: the material evidence of the landscape and the textual evidence of the Bible and other ancient cosmologies.
Before 1600, commentators in Flanders and Holland looked to the Rhine delta and the North Sea to explain the formation of these lowlands. By the mid-seventeenth century however, the coastal plain was increasingly envisioned as a diluvial land, shaped by Noah’s flood and other deluges. By the late eighteenth century, the story had changed again, as fossils became the key markers of epochs in earth history.
In six chapters, this dissertation charts the rise and gradual decline of the biblical narrative between 1600 and 1800. It explores the interplay between scholarly debate and local conceptions of the landscape, delving into hydrological, antiquarian, and natural historical discourses about the geography of the Northern and the Southern Netherlands.
This dissertation ties transnational debates about biblical interpretation and natural philosophy to more local histories, situated in the particular environments of the Low Countries. It thus shows how even the most global of all learned debates—about the formation of the earth—was rooted in local circumstances.