The Little Ice Age

The Little Ice Age

Summer Institute for k-12 Teachers

June 21 - 25, 2021

10:00 AM - 12:00 PM (PDT) each day via Zoom

What role can humanities and social science classes play in addressing modern climate change?

Understanding and addressing climate change is a truly interdisciplinary undertaking. The sciences can teach students to investigate the mechanisms that cause climate change and set them on the road to devising technological solutions. But if we want to understand how climate change is likely to affect human societies, we need to delve into history, social sciences, the arts, and literature.

The Little Ice Age was a period of global climate change that extended from the 15th century (or the 16th, depending on your source) to the 19th century. This shift was caused by cooling, rather than warming and was primarily the result of natural, rather than anthropogenic causes. Even with these differences, examination of this period offers a way to think about how changes in climate can affect economies, social structures, politics, and daily life. The Little Ice Age also offers examples of successful (and unsuccessful) responses to climate changes.

Participants will come away with knowledge and examples derived from our past, plus meaninfgul questions that can be applied to thinking and talking about our future.

Each session will include presentations by a scholar-experts, participant discussion, and a Q & A period.

This institute is open to k-12 teachers across disciplines. There is no cost to attend. 


Monday, June 21

10:00 AM - 12:00 PM 

Climate and History: An Introduction

Sam White

This presentation will explain how experts reconstruct climate variations and extreme weather in past centuries.  We’ll explore some results of those reconstructions, how those past changes compare to present global warming, and what they might mean for human history during the Little Ice Age.

Tuesday, June 22

10:00 AM - 12:00 PM 

The History of Climate and Society: Challenges, New Approaches, and Significance

Dagomar Degroot

Global warming today poses unprecedented challenges, yet Earth’s climate has repeatedly changed over the 300,000-year history of humanity. For over a century, scholars have sought to uncover how these changes influenced human populations, a field of study recently coined the “History of Climate and Society” (HCS). This talk describes the most important findings of HCS scholarship, which has largely focused on past disasters. It then introduces a new approach to HCS that is helping scholars uncover how some populations prospered amid past climate changes – with lessons for our hotter future.

How to See Water in an Age of Unusual Droughts: Ecological Aesthetics in the Little Ice Age, India

Sugata Ray

The Little Ice Age (ca. 1550–1850), a climatic period marked by glacial expansion in Europe, brought droughts of unprecedented intensity to South Asia. In drought-ravaged north India, the beginnings of the Little Ice Age not only corresponded with the emergence of new techniques of landscape painting and riparian architecture that emphasized the materiality of flowing water but also saw the enunciation of a new theology of Krishna worship that centralized the veneration of the natural environment. Tracing the intersections among artistic practices, theological economies, and the ecocatastrophes of the Little Ice Age, this talk aims to generate an ideation of an eco art history that brings together the environmental and the aesthetic.

Wednesday, June 23

10:00 AM - 12:00 PM 

The Little Ice Age in Seventeenth Century China

Clark Alejandrino

How did the coldest years of the Little Ice Age impact the fortunes of the Ming and the Qing empires and their peoples? We will look at how climatologists and historians have answered this question. In the process, we will reflect on questions of historical causation and human agency, which are relevant to discussions of climate history and climate change. 

Colonialism and Climate: Agroecological Ingenuity in the Tlaxcalan Little Ice Age

Lucy Gill

From the 1540s-1700s, just as Indigenous communities of Mexico were suffering from violence and disease wrought by Spanish colonial rule, rainfall and cloud cover in Central Mexico increased, while temperatures plummeted. The coincident timing of these anthropogenic and climatic disturbances, and their ensuing effects -- most notably, flooding, wetland siltation, and soil erosion -- forced Indigenous farmers to respond creatively to these challenges. Through new engagements with American and European flora and fauna and extensive environmental engineering, Tlaxcalans were largely able to avert ecological degradation, until a new agrarian regime characterized by monoculture emerged in the 18th century left the ecosystem more susceptible to climatic fluctuation.

Thursday, June 24

10:00 AM - 12:00 PM 

The Little Ice Age in southeast and west-central Africa: variability, impacts, responses

Matthew Hannaford

This talk will examine historical documentary and palaeoclimate evidence on the Little Ice Age in southeast and west-central Africa, 1550-1830. First, it will compare the characteristics of the Little Ice Age using these two forms of evidence and consider the drivers behind observed patterns in rainfall variability. Second, it will examine the human impacts of, and responses to, multi-year droughts across this time period. Particular attention is given to divergent impacts and responses between colonial society on the Zambezi river and its African neighbours, with emphasis placed on agricultural systems and institutions.

Friday, June 25

10:00 AM - 12:00 PM 

Tambora and The Year Without a Summer, 1816

Gillen D'Arcy Wood

What happens when the world’s climate reaches a sudden tipping point?

2016 marked the 200th anniversary of the so-called “Year Without a Summer,” 1816, spawned by fallout from the massive eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. During that global climate emergency, volcanic conditions disrupted monsoons in India that contributed to a devastating new strain of cholera, while crop failure and famine crippled nations from China to Western Europe to New England, precipitating food riots and the mass emigration of refugees. The extreme weather crisis also made waves in the world of art and literature, with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein the most notable work of imagination to emerge from “The Year Without a Summer.”

This talk, based on Wood’s award-winning Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World—the first book to present a comprehensive investigation of the environmental calamity of 1816—provides a gripping disaster narrative, with important lessons not only for scientists, historians, educators and students, but also local communities and governments tasked with responding to today’s climate crisis.

When & Where

Where: Online via Zoom.

When: See the agenda to the left for daily schedule information. 

Registration: Use this form to register

Accessibility: If you require an accommodation for effective communication (ASL interpreting/CART captioning, alternative media formats, etc.) in order to fully participate in this event, please contact Shane Carter at with as much advance notice as possible.

Learn More

Do you want to incorporate this topic into your teaching? The following resources will enable you to deepen your understanding. Some of them are appropriate classroom materials; others are for your own continued learning.


Climate and Catastrophe in Cuba and the Atlantic World in the Age of Revolution by Sherry Johnson

Climate Change and the Art of Devotion: Geoaesthetics in the Land of Krishna, 1550–1850 by Sugata Ray

The Climate of Rebellion in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire by Sam White

Climate Refugees by Collectif Argos

A Cold Welcome: The Little Ice Age and Europe’s Encounter with North America by Sam White

Colonial Cataclysms: Climate, Landscape, and Memory in Mexico’s Little Ice Age by Bradley Skopyk

The Frigid Golden Age: Climate Change, the Little Ice Age, and the Dutch Republic, 1560–1720 by Dagomar Degroot

The Little Ice Age:  by Brian Fagan

Palgrave Handbook of Climate History, edited by Sam White, Christian Pfister, and Franz Mauelshagen

Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World by Gillen D'Arcy Wood

Articles & More

"Climate Change’s Fatal Synergy" by Hyeok Hweon Kang on Sense & Sustainability

"Climate Change, Health, and the Anthropocene: Why We Must Study the Past" by Alexander More on Remedia

Climate History Australia

Climate History Network

"Climate, history, society over the last millennium in southeast Africa" by Matthew Hannaford and David Nash in WIREs Climate Change

Climate Reconstruction and Impacts from the Archives of Societies at Past Global Changes

"The Economic Effects of Long-Term Climate Change: Evidence from the Little Ice Age" by Maria Waldinger

"Episode 44: Climate Change and World History" from 15-Minute History

"The good, bad, undefined Little Ice Age" by Heli Huhtamaa on Historical Climatology

Historical Climatology

"How medieval Christian ideology changed the Polish environment forever – new study" by Amanda Power on The Conversation

"The Little Ice Age: Heterogeneity of Impact and Japan’s Success Story?" by Hyeok Hweon Kang on Sense & Sustainability

"Little Ice Age lessons" by Dagomar Degroot on AEON

"Little Ice Age Lessons: Towards a New Climate History" by Dagomar Degroot on Historical Climatology

"The myths that hint at past disasters" by Mark Piesing from BBC

Tambora Explore

"To prepare climate strikers for the future, we need to rewrite the history books" by Amanda Power on The Conversation

"Wealthered History" by Leibniz Institute for the History and Culture of Eastern Europe and CRIAS

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