Mathijs Boom MA
Charting Time: Nature and Culture in the History of Time, 1760-1860
University of Amsterdam
Promotor(es): Prof. dr. Wyger Velema, Prof. dr. Eric Jorink
Aanstelling: vanaf september 2017
Our image of our world, our species, and our society is historical. Part of this historical worldview arose during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In a matter of decades both nature and culture acquired a history – a sense of evolution. Pioneering earth scientists discovered deep time and envisioned a succession of different worlds, inhabited by strange creatures long vanished, while the historians of Enlightenment Europe constructed a
history of civil society and human culture. They all reshaped the concept of time. Yet, the parallel historization of nature and culture and its relation to the history of time has never been the subject of thorough research. We are still hampered by the nineteenth-century division between natural and cultural thought.
I propose to revisit the era between 1760 and 1860 to recover the shared heritage of natural and cultural concepts of time. My research will focus on the central case study of the Netherlands. Here, Haarlem’s learned societies played a pivotal role in the international debate on the age of the Earth, while Leiden’s university was a hothouse for European philology and biblical criticism, fueling the need for a more historical understanding of God’s creation and the natural world. Through the study of society archives and university archives, important prize questions, and published works in natural and cultural history, I intend to deepen our knowledge of the relationship between natural and cultural concepts of time, and further our insight into this revolutionary era in the history of time.