Science is perhaps the only human activity in which errors are systematically criticized and... in time correctedKarl Popper
I am going to start off this year's blogging by taking a philosophical approach to a controversial subject, and I apologise in advance if this is too close to any reader's personal experience, since it does relate in part to the recent events in Asia.
Yesterday, an article was published in the Times with the following sub-heading:
An Atlantic tsunami created our greatest environmental disaster, and it could happen again Michael Disney, Professor of Astronomy, Cardiff University. Published in The Times, January 4th 2005
In brief the article discusses accounts of a great flood occurring in 1607 in the region of the Bristol Channel and particularly Cardiff. The principle source for these accounts being a single pamphlet printed in London. I believe this article to be propounding an erroneous deduction lacking in objective (in the historiographical sense) historical evidence and influenced by temporal and personal biases that only hermeneutics could elucidate for future historians.
Of course, it is the privilege (even the obligation) of journalism to co-erce the facts to accommodate the author's own subjective conclusions. But an article, authored by a member of the academia, which Michael Disney represents, could easily fit into Carr's definition of historical facts because
It is never really a matter of the facts per se but the weight, position, combination and significance they carry,?, that is at issue. E H Carr, What is History: The George Macaulay Trevelyan lectures
Early in the article Disney states -
COULD a huge wave swamp Britain? Almost certainly. Historical evidence suggests that it has happened in the past.
No one can be absolutely certain that it was a tsunami, but the conditions suggest so. The sky was blue, the tide was high, there is a secondhand report of an earth tremor felt earlier that morning. It all fits together.
From my brief studies of Earth Sciences, I never recall either blue sky or a high tide being necessary conditions for a tsunami. While, positivism would almost certainly reject the final remark for lack of historical authenticity.
Historical evidence actually suggests that the Great Flood occurred on January 20th 1606, not 1607, and the cause of this event was the coincidence of meteorological extremes and tidal peaks.
A primary source for the Great Flood was written by John Paul, the Vicar of Almondsbury on 26th January 1606, which I will recount here in part (in its original language to avoid bias in interpretation):
But the yeere 1606, the fourth of K (King) James, the ryver of Severn rose upon a sodeyn Tuesday mornyng the 20 of January beyng the full pryme day and hyghest tyde after the change of the moone by reason of a myghty strong western wynd. So that from Mynhead to Slymbryge the lowe groundes alongst the ryver Severne were that tuornyng tyde overflowen, and in Saltmarsh many howses overthrowne, sundry Chrystyans drowned, hundreds of rudder cattell and horses peryshed, and thowsandes of sheep and lambs lost. Unspeakable was the spoyle and losse on both sydes the ryver.
The salt water was in Rednyng in Sansoms new chamber to the upper stepp save twoo, and in Hobbes house syx foote hyghe. In Ellenhurst at Wades howse the sea rose neere 7 foote and in some howses there yt ran yn at one wyndow and out at an other.
[..snip..] Also in Brysto by credyble report that mornyng tyde was hygher than that Evenyng tyde by nyne foote of water. John Paul, Vicar of Almondsbury, 26th January 1606
Another account exists in the parish memorandums of Arlingham, a village on the eastern bank of the arc of the Severn horseshoe bend 50 miles upstream from Cardiff. As mentioned in Disney's article, churches spanning the Bristol Channel coastline do preserve the memories of the Great Flood through plaques of commemoration demonstrating the extreme water marks attained in
the great flood of 1606.
Yet there are occassional, but not primary, references that do support the backbone of facts for a 1607 flood. So could there have actually been great floods in consecutive years on the same day? Maybe, but references to the flooding of the River Taff in 1607 might suggest that a flood of 1607 could have been the result of freshwater flooding not saltwater inundation. While other non-primary accounts further support a flood inundation on January 20th 1607.
So where does this confused bundle of sources leave the actual history of the Great Flood? I cannot deny that the assertions I make here are influenced by personal factors contrary to historical objectivity - my own personal fascination with all things tidal - but the facts appear to be as follows:
These conditions in combination would suggest the Great Flood was caused by an exceptional bore tide in combination with a storm surge as seen in the English East Coast floods of 1953 - there is no evidence for a tsunami!
With a brief venture into hermeneutic method I suggest that, perhaps, the 1607 pamphlet, entitled God's warning to the people of England by the great overflowing of the waters or floods, could have in fact been fervour inducing religious propaganda drawing on evidence from the parishes around the Bristol Channel recounting the flood of the previous year, itself becoming a source for further accounts of the misnomer that is the 1607 flood. It would not be the first time that facts have been mysteriously hyperbolized in the cross country journey from the West country to the capital - but I will not digress further now. Even to the present day local rivermen refer to the Severn bore tide as the flood tide - the Great Flood. Of course this is as much unsolicited conjecture as Disney's hypothesizing of a historical tsunami.
The real crux of this rant is that we should not let current events interfere with our judgement and interpretation of historical data in a way that history itself overtime becomes remoulded to meet our own requirements with total disregard for the objectivity of historical facts.
Posted on Thursday, Jan 06, 2005 at 02:33:03.
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