A Cold Welcome: The Little Ice Age and America’s Colonial Beginnings


Dr. Sam White, Associate Professor of Environmental History at the Ohio State University

The first European explorers and settlers in North America came woefully unprepared for the novel environments and climates
they encountered in the New World. Popular understanding equated climates with latitudes and vastly underestimated the stronger continental seasons that Spanish, English, and French would find across the Atlantic. A cooling climate and large volcanic eruptions
during the late 1500s only added to their challenges. One expedition after another arrived in America and Canada only to collapse under the stress of droughts, freezing winters, and untimely storms. This presentation, drawn from the author’s forthcoming
book, retells early colonial history as a story of confusions, disasters, conflicts, and survival as Europeans met a harsh and uncertain climate. It offers a case study in how the combination of written and physical evidence, historical and paleoclimate
records, might help us rethink our history and even offer insights for the present.



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