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Environment and History

From an Act of God to an Insurable Risk: The Change in the Perception of Hailstorms and Thunderstorms since the Early Modern Period

Frank Oberholzner

Environment and History 17 (2011): 133-152. doi: 10.3197/096734011X12922359173050

Despite the welcome growth in the literature on historical disasters, there has been no recent study into the change in the perception of serious storms and in particular hailstorms that took place during the Early Modern period. With the help of selected sources, some of which have hitherto never been the subject of historical research, this essay will aim to illuminate the main steps that contributed towards what was effectively a demystification of the 'wrath of God'. The essay will set the interpretation of hailstorms and the strategies for coping with them against the background of the predominant theological and scientific opinions of the day. It concludes with a short survey of cameralist suggestions towards a comprehensive hail insurance system.

KEYWORDS: Germany, Early Modern period, hail, natural disaster (perception, management, coping strategies)


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