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Transcontinental Meteorology Infrastructures From Ancient Mesopotamia to the Early Modern Age  

Robert-Jan Wille

The current global infrastructure of meteorology partly builds on older transcontinental structures of weather science and meteorological philosophy. For several millennia, the large belt stretching from East Asia, through mountains, silk roads, and the Indian Ocean, to the seas and river deltas where Western Eurasia and North Africa border on each other, has formed a key region. From Ancient Mesopotamia to the 16th century, a continuous and multi-site infrastructure emerged that was organized around meteorological texts, including not only scrolls, papyri, and manuscripts, but also ideas and concepts, as well as meteorological writers and readers traveling between institutions and storehouses. Not considering the long history of orally transmitted pre-Mesopotamian weather knowledge, the first large-scale textual infrastructures were inseparable from astronomical tabulation and dynastical prognostication. In later millennia, in the city states and empires of Greece, Rome, China, and India, “meteorology” became a distinct subject, with its own language and concepts, even though it remained allied to agriculture and statecraft as knowledge practices. At the beginning of the Common Era, the first distinct meteorological instruments appeared, first in East Asia and later in the Near East and Greece. In the 15th and 16th centuries, new regions were added to this knowledge infrastructure, with or without force, making it almost global: the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, their Eurasian and African shores, and the Americas. This changed the power dynamics, with European empires controlling the transatlantic infrastructures of knowledge and labor. Ideas that were transcontinental in origin now became part of a Western European program to conquer the globe.