Did astrology produce serious weather forecasts, and how did people use them?
Dr Anne Lawrence is running a research project on Medieval Meteorology in Context, and has gained funding for an undergraduate researcher to work on part of the project. The research will begin by analysing the university’s holdings of English printed almanacs, which date from the 16th to the 19th century. The importance given to weather forecasts in these almanacs was considerable, and remained so despite the widespread availability of instruments such as thermometers and barometers in the 19th century.
The established view is that meteorology originated in the nineteenth century; but the project will challenge this belief, by arguing that the forecasts in the almanacs were taken seriously. The University of Reading holds a good range of early printed almanacs, central to this research, but no unified list and description of these currently exists. One part of the placement will be for the researcher to compile a detailed list of the almanacs held across the university. This includes several which form part of the John Lewis collection of printed ephemera, for which no full catalogue exists, and so the researcher will gain experience in examining, identifying and describing such items. The second part of the placement will be the analysis of this body of evidence, with special attention to the yearly ‘Prognostications’, or predictions of weather for the coming twelve months. These were published each autumn, giving predictions of the weather for each month of the coming year, and were calculated using astrology. They were reasonably priced and extremely popular, and their authors had celebrity status. Since some of the Reading almanacs contain annotations by their original owners, it will be possible to look for comments on these forecasts!
The student researcher will produce new knowledge on a surprisingly neglected subject. They will also gain expertise in using archives and in cataloguing archival materials. Finally, they will be able to work with Dr Lawrence on planning a small exhibition on the subject of astrology and weather forecasting. All these experiences will be very useful for those interested in a career in archives or the heritage sector.
Less formally, the student will also have the opportunity to learn how to draw up an astrological chart, compile a weather forecast from it in the style of the almanacs, and then see how well it measures up to actual weather conditions during the summer of 2014!