The 1815 volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora changed history. The year following the eruption, 1816 was known in England as the “Year without a Summer,” in New England as “18-hundred-and-froze-to-death”, and “L’annee de la misere” or “Das Hungerhjar” in Switzerland. Germans dubbed 1817 as “the year of the beggar.” The Chinese and Indians had no name for it but the years following the massive eruption were remembered as ones of intense and widespread suffering. Scientists are, only today, uncovering the historical impacts of this ecological disaster. Suddenly we have climatic data which have reshaped our understanding of the events of 1815 and the years that followed. Now it is historians’ job to explore the social, political, and cultural influence of this catastrophic event. All this and more today as we explore the eruption of Mount Tambora in April 1815.

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Transcript of Mount Tambora and the Year Without a Summer

Researched and written by Marissa Rhodes

Produced by Marissa Rhodes and Averill Earls, PhD

Marissa: In 2004, Icelandic volcanologist Haraldur Sigurdsson was visiting Sumbawa, a medium-sized island in the Indonesian archipelago. The Sumbawa savannahs are ideally suited to the breeding of horses and cows. Its population, around 1.4 million people, work primarily in agriculture and mining. One of Sigurdsson’s local guides informed him of a small gully where locals had found old pottery and other goods. They called it “museum gully” and knew nothing more of it. They might have been surprised when Sigurdsson enthusiastically asked them to take him there.

Averill: The guides took Sigurdsson to museum gully. Using ground-penetrating radar, he and his team from the University of Rhode Island, uncovered the remains of a 19th century village frozen in time. They excavated one structure, a home which contained the carbonized remains of two people. The woman brandished a utility knife as if she was in the course of preparing a meal or performing an ordinary task around the house. The couple was surrounded by their belongings: furniture, iron tools, bronze bowls and pottery. Sigurdsson knew that this site had been preserved by history’s deadliest volcano, Mount Tambora, whose 1815 eruption changed history.

Marissa: The locals on Sumbawa knew little of this event which had occurred only 200 years ago on the island they call home. This is not, of course, because they were uneducated or disinterested. They knew nothing of the eruption because few who lived on the island, and no one who lived on the mountain at the time survived to tell the story. The Tambora people and their Rajah lived closest to the volcano before the eruption. One April evening, their culture, their language, and their lifestyle, became extinct within a matter of hours. The rest of the world was oblivious to the eruption for months. Even after news of the event reached the rest of the globe, they had no idea that they were already weathering its impact.

The year following the eruption, 1816 was known in England as the “Year without a Summer,” in New England as 18-hundred-and-froze-to-death, and “L’annee de la misere” or “Das Hungerhjar” in Switzerland. Germans dubbed 1817 as “the year of the beggar.” The Chinese and Indians had no name for it but the years following the massive eruption were remembered as ones of intense and widespread suffering. Scientists are, only today, uncovering the historical impacts of this ecological disaster. Suddenly we have climatic data which have reshaped our understanding of the events of 1815 and the years that followed. Now it is historians’ job to explore the social, political, and cultural influence of this catastrophic event. All this and more today as we explore the eruption of Mount Tambora in April 1815.

I’m Marissa Rhodes

And I’m Averill Earls

And we are your historians for this episode of Dig.

Averill: In the beginning of the 19th century, Mount Tambora had been considered extinct. No one alive at the time knew of any Tambora eruptions since the start of recorded history. We know now that before 1815, Mount Tambora had not erupted for over 5,000 years. Starting sometime in 1812, the villagers living on the mountain’s terraces and at its foot reported hearing occasional rumbling and seeing small eruptions of steam. These developments were interesting to the inhabitants of the mountain who spoke a now-extinct language related to Khmer, the language of Cambodia. They probably discussed it amongst themselves and with the traders and guides from the British and Dutch East India Companies who occasionally docked in Sumbawa’s primary port, called Bima. No one seemed particularly worried about Tambora’s awakening.

Marissa: This was, until April 5, 1815. A loud explosion was heard up to 620 miles away (1,000 km). A 15 mile-high column of hot ash and smoke shot out of the massive volcano. Over 10,000 residents were killed immediately in this initial eruption. Two entire principalities, Tambora, and Pekat had been vaporized. Others close by choked on poisonous gases or were buried in ash and pumice, where they stayed until American students began excavating their resting places 200 years later. On April 10, the volcano erupted again, this time the column of ash and fire thrown from the volcano reached 25 miles high. This second explosion was heard over 1,500 miles away in Sumatra. The entire top of the mountain, totaling about a mile high, was blown off entirely, changing Mount Tambora’s appearance forever. Much of the archipelago and its adjacent seas were plunged into darkness for days. Volcanic ash reached as far as 620 miles away from the site.

Averill: The Rajah of Sangarr, a small principality on Sumbawa survived the disaster and described the site of the eruption for posterity:

“[T]hree distinct columns of flame burst forth, near the top of Tomboro [sic] Mountain, all of them apparently within the verge of the crater; and after ascending separately to a very great height, their tops united in the air in a troubled confused manner.  In a short time the whole mountain next [to] Saugar [sic] appeared like a body of liquid fire extending itself in every direction… Between nine and ten p.m. ashes began to fall, and soon after a violent whirlwind ensued, which blew down nearly every house in the village of Saugar, carrying the tops and light parts along with it… In the part of Saugar adjoining [Mount Tambora] its effects were much more violent, tearing up by the roots the largest trees and carrying them into the air together with men, houses, cattle, and whatever else came within its influence. This will account for the immense number of floating trees seen at sea… The sea rose nearly twelve feet higher than it had ever been known to be before, and completely spoiled the only small spots of rice lands in Saugar, sweeping away houses and every thing within its reach.”

Marissa: The Sumbawa people who did not die in either eruption suffered in the following weeks. They endured transplantation or homelessness as hot rivers of lava flowed over their villages. Thousands drowned in resultant tsunamis or suffered fatal injuries in volcanic wind gales. Tens of thousands died from thirst, hunger, disease or malnutrition over the following months because their rice crops and infrastructure were destroyed. Their water supply was also poisoned by ash, pyroclastic flows and the aerosolized gases it absorbed. Two weeks after the eruption, Lieutenant Owen Phillips was charged with delivering rice and drinking water to the island from stores on Java. He encountered a horrible scene. Few recognizable built structures still existed on the island and both land and sea were littered with uprooted trees and rotting corpses. [Philips was actually the person who recorded the Rajah’s eyewitness account we just read]

Averill: An estimated 117,000 people died as a direct result of the two April eruptions. Survivors who lived on the farther reaches of the island appeared to have emigrated en masse in the eruption’s aftermath. The islanders reached such depths of desperation that they started selling themselves as slaves to Sulawesi [SU-la-WEY-see] pirates as a survival strategy. Within a year of the event, half of Sumbawa’s population were dead or departed. Only years later did new groups arrive to repopulate and rebuild the island. Nearly all of Sumbawa’s buildings date to after 1815. At least two small kingdoms were lost entirely and we know very little about them. The Dutch and British East India companies, whose activities generated most if the documents we have about 19th-century Indonesia, knew little of the Tambora or Pekat people. Neither company had been successful at regulating trade in Sumbawa and other small islands in the archipelago by that time.  

mt. sumbing

Mt. Sumbing, a Javanese volcano | Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Marissa: The Dutch had been in Indonesia since 1603 but focused their efforts on Java which was closer to the mainland. Sailors had used Mount Tambora as a landmark and guide in their journeys but their contact with the people on Sumbawa was minimal compared to interactions in the bustling ports of Java. The nearby islands of Lombok, Bali and East Java suffered considerable crop damage after the eruption but news of their struggles did not travel far. Unlike the explosion of Krakatoa in the 1880s, this eruption went largely unreported. The telegraph had not yet been invented and the volcano’s immediate damage was confined to the lesser colonized islands which were still comparatively insular. 

Averill: What’s more is that until the eruption of Krakatoa (70 years later), scientists were unsure of the climatic impact of volcanic eruptions. For this reason, studies on Tambora and its impacts are all fairly recent. First-hand documentation of its 1815 eruption are incredibly rare so its death toll, and its immediate consequences went undetermined for decades. Most of the accounts we have from the time are the recorded observations of British and Dutch sailors in the area. In the last few years, scientists are beginning to understand that the deposits of ash, pumice and solidified lava flows have completely reshaped the island’s topography. The Mount Tambora eruption has long since been identified as the cause of the “Year without a Summer” but in 1816, few people had any idea that such a cataclysmic event had passed and no one knew that it would wreak havoc all over the world for the next three years.

Marissa: First I want to make sure we give our listeners an idea of the scale of this eruption. Krakatoa, which is often used as an example of the quintessential natural disaster, flung 4.5 cubic miles of pumice, rock, ash and other debris into the atmosphere, no small amount. But when Mount Tambora erupted, it expelled 36 cubic miles of debris into the atmosphere. There’s no comparison. Those of us who have seen Dante’s Peak, starring Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton, might remember it was about the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helen’s in Washington state. Tambora’s eruption was 100 times the size of the eruption of Mount St. Helen’s. It’s nearly impossible to imagine the scale of this disaster, really. When something is so massive and devastating, it almost starts to mean nothing… just numbers, right?

a movie poster for Dante's Peak

Dante’s Peak film poster, 1997 | Fair Use

Averill: One way we can measure Tambora’s destructiveness is by exploring its impact over the rest of the world in the following years. But keep in mind, at the time, no one knew that this eruption was to blame for the events that followed. The ash thrown up into the atmosphere by the violent explosion settled over the entire archipelago, blotting out the light for days after the event. This consequence was obviously perceived by people who were living at the time but what they could not have known was that the volcano had emitted 80 megatons (80 million metric tons) of sulphur dioxide which rose into the stratosphere, creating a band around the tropics. There, they oxidized into sulphate aerosol particles which were distributed globally over the next year.  These aerosols were deposited on the ice covering both of the Earth’s poles, and these deposits continued for two years. Tambora’s emissions were preserved in ice, appearing as they did in the months after the eruption, and studied in ice cores extracted in 2009.

Marissa: These sulphate particles refract and absorb the sun’s light in such a way that it leads to a cooling effect on the ground. The world’s temperatures plummeted for the next 3 years. This, in addition to other weather anomalies triggered by the eruption, disrupted ecosystems all over the planet. I think we talked about proxies in the Little Ice Age episode? But a quick refresh: proxies are records of historical temperatures that still exist today. Scientists have used ice cores as we mentioned earlier, historical documentation by cultures all over the world, as well as dendrochronology — the reading of tree rings– to determine temperature patterns after the eruption. Being historians, we’re most interested in the document proxies, and to be honest, we’re hardly qualified to talk about the other more scientific ways of studying this phenomenon. You need to go over to Lady Science Pod for that.

Averill: In North America and Europe, 19th-century people had a nerdy habit of recording the temperature and other meteorological data every day. Thomas Jefferson was one of these nerds. Scholars have been able to use his records to prove Tambora’s impact on global temperatures. For example, on May 17, 1816, Jefferson wrote:

“[T]he spring has been unusually dry and cold. our average morning cold for the month of May in other years has been 63° of Farenheit. in the present month it has been to this day an average of 53° and one morning as low as 43°. repeated frosts have killed the early fruits and the crops of tobacco and wheat will be poor.” [Jefferson to David Baillie Warden, May 17, 1816, in PTJ:RS, 10:65.]

Two months later, New England experienced a summer snow storm that dropped 10 inches of snow on unsuspecting villages. Now just one document like this doesn’t mean much, but added to hundreds of other documents where people similarly record plummeting temperatures, they act as evidence that Tambora’s impact was far-reaching.

Marissa: The gazettes in Qing China reported the daily weather in enough detail that scholars have been able to measure Tambora’s impact on China’s weather between 1815 and 1819. They have also been able to use people’s personal diaries, etc to corroborate temperatures. During these years, China suffered from unseasonably cool and wet weather. Summer frosts and snow falls destroyed rice and buckwheat crops on such a scale that some areas, such as the southwestern Yunnan province, suffered severe famine. The Great Yunnan famine was the result of 3 successive crop failures. It was so severe that people were reportedly selling their children, committing murder-suicides, and eating clay in desperation.

Averill: Starvation and desperation in Yunnan killed many people. The survivors of the Yunnan famine were understandably scarred and resentful, and they sought ways to protect themselves from another such disaster. One way they did this was by turning to cash crops, specifically poppy. Poppy plants, used to produce opium, were hardy enough to withstand the temperature fluctuations resulting from Tambora. Even though they didn’t provide sustenance to those who grew them, they brought in cash which solved Yunnan’s food insecurity crisis at least temporarily. Farmers weren’t the only ones benefiting from this transition to cash crops. The state benefited as well because it was able to tax the lucrative crop and extract impressive revenue.

Marissa: What seemed like an innovative solution to famine at the time ended up having grave consequences. The famine contributed to the decline of the Qing dynasty and unfortunately coincided with the arrival of Western gun boats. Great Britain launched a strategy of gunboat diplomacy where it used intimidation in Chinese ports to force trade deals which unilaterally benefited them. Meanwhile, the opium problem worsened. Neither the farmers nor the state had any monetary incentive to stop growing poppy. Eventually the Yunnan province was entirely dedicated to the cultivation of poppy and was forced to import  all of its grain from southeast Asia. So Yunnan was not producing any food at all… so much for increased food security! The opium-dependent population living in China’s ports bought foreign opium supplies in massive quantities which drained China of its silver (triggering the first and second Opium wars with Britain). It also created generations of Chinese people who struggled their entire lives with opium addiction. The Chinese state recognized widespread opium addiction as a national crisis as early as the 1830s.

a Chinese painting of the Daoguang Emperor and family

The Daoguang Emperor with his empress, imperial consorts, and children in the palace | Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Averill: This course of events is known in Chinese history as the Daoguang Depression. It was crucial to shaping China’s interactions with the West. In centuries past, China had enjoyed economic stability, population growth and competent, widespread political influence. Tambora’s impact on the climate made the Chinese vulnerable to Western exploitation and interference. This set China on a path toward deterioration: the decline of the Qing, the Opium Wars, and the Taiping Rebellion followed.

Marissa: Some of the modern world’s most dangerous pathogens also owe their strength to Tambora’s eruption. India’s monsoons were delayed in 1816 and 1817 by Tambora’s sulphate gases. The dramatic alteration in moisture content in Indian towns and cities resulted in a mutation to the cholera bacterium. This mutation triggered the deadliest cholera epidemic in history, known as the Bengal Cholera. In November 1817, this mutated cholera killed 5,000 people in 5 days. The disease quickly spread and became a pandemic lasting, in Asia, until 1821. Death tolls are staggeringly high and a total has never been calculated. We know 10,000 British soldiers stationed in India died of cholera but estimates of Indian deaths are projected to be in the hundreds of thousands. The bacterium did not become any less deadly as it traveled across Asia. Bangkok, for example, reported 30,000 cholera deaths. By 1823, the mutated strain reached Europe, and then North America shortly after. Worldwide, experts estimate that the cholera pandemic triggered by Tambora’s gases killed millions.

Averill: For centuries India has been regarded as the “Homeland of Cholera.” Public health officials and sometimes even historians accused the Indian government of neglecting sanitation, and the Indian people of unhygienic practices which transformed the country into a vector of the highly contagious disease.  The British Empire used India’s susceptibility to cholera to justify their colonial activities there. The British were able to frame India as a third-world country incapable of ruling itself and Britain as the modern, civilized world power willing to influence the Indian state for the better. (Gandhi disagrees lol) The impact of British colonialism in India is still being felt today. Studies of Tambora’s impact have rectified this myth somewhat. There was little that India could have done to prevent the mutation and spread of the cholera bacteria in light of the monsoon failures they endured.

Marissa: Another indirect impact of Tambora are the riots that ensued across the globe in response to widespread famine and disease. In most modern societies, it’s not as easy to see the connections between agricultural output and food security. But at the time of Tambora’s eruption, the vast majority of the world was still engaged in subsistence agriculture. So variations in agricultural output had direct impacts on how much food made it to the table. One crop failure was serious. Two crop failures in a row was dire. Most regions would have used any food stores to supplement the first failure. Three crop failures in a row, as we saw with Hunnan province in China, was an emergency. Gillen D’Arcy Wood, author on a new book about Tambora, put it well: “For three years following Tambora’s explosion, to be alive, almost anywhere in the world, meant to be hungry.” In many areas, food scarcity led to riots and other unrest, especially in Europe which was struggling with the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars during the Year without a Summer.

Averill: In 1816 Ireland, for example, it rained four times more than was typical. Crop failure was so severe that many were forced to sell their clothes and hair for food. Wearing rags in the cold and wet weather made the Irish susceptible to typhus, which added to their misery. Ireland’s Chief Secretary Charles Grant wrote: “In the years 1816 and 1817, the state of the weather was so moist and wet, that the lower orders in Ireland were almost deprived of fuel werewith to dry themselves, and of food whereon to subsist. They were obliged to feed on esculent plants such as mustard seeds, nettles, potato-tops, and potato-stalks- a diet which brought on a debility of body and encouraged the disease more than anything else could have done.” In Ballina (County Mayo), protests ensued over the export of oatmeal. The riot became so violent that the military was deployed to protect the town. Three rioters were killed and many more were seriously wounded.   

Marissa: Bavarian towns such as Augsburg and Memmingen were in turmoil for similar reasons. Rumors were circulating that authorities were exporting corn to Switzerland. The local newspapers illustrate the levels of desperation felt by Bavarian villagers. They reported that: “thousands of men and women, [were] ripping chunks out of a living chestnut mare… They’re sending our corn out to Switzerland.” The rumors of export sparked several riots that shut down the small cities.

In England, the East Midlands also experienced unrest related to food insecurity. Villagers in Pentrich, Derbyshire suffered high grain prices, and post-war unemployment on a large-scale. They amassed weapons and marched on the village, killing one servant whose master refused to join the rising. A spy in their midst informed on them and so magistrates were able to neutralize the uprising fairly quickly but dozens of men were indicted on treason. Three of them were executed publicly to dissuade other hungry and disaffected groups from doing the same.

Averill: Many of these riots revolved around the export of food in towns where the local populations were near starvation. In the Bavarian cases Marissa mentioned, magistrates were trying to provide relief to Switzerland, where Tambora’s impact was particularly severe. There, the price of grain quadrupled between 1815 and 1817. As in other parts of the world, cold weather led to unripened crops and wet weather caused the rest to rot in the fields. Snow fell in record amounts for the two winters following the eruption and there was 80% more rainfall than in an average year.  Residents reported having to heat their homes throughout the summer months. Unseasonably cold weather in the summer of 1816 prevented the annual melting of the Alpine ice caps so that when the cooling subsided in 1817, there was more ice than usual and the Swiss experienced unprecedented flooding. Switzerland may have been unequally affected by Tambora but it’s also the best-studied area because it was the setting of an important cultural milestone for English literature.

a black and white still image from the film The Bride of Frankenstein, 1935

A still from The Bride of Frankenstein, depicting Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron in Geneva | Universal Pictures, Public Domain

Marissa: England’s youngest and most promising authors gathered at Lake Geneva in the Summer of 1816. Among them were Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and Mary Godwin (soon to be Mary Shelley), the novelist and daughter of the badass feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Lord Byron was escaping crushing debts and rumors of incest in England. [I just listened to the History Chicks episode on Ada Lovelace, who was Lord Byron’s daughter– so I have this family on my mind] But anyway, Byron was living in a villa on Lake Geneva. Mary, Percy, and Mary’s sister Claire visited Byron,  intending to escape London’s dreary weather with a tour of Europe. But they were obviously unaware of Tambora’s impact on Europe’s climate. After witnessing the wet and wintry bleakness of a post-Tambora Swiss summer, Mary wrote “Never was a scene more awfully desolate.” The group holed up in a villa and challenged each other to pass the time by telling the best ghost stories. It was the only activity that seemed appropriate given the dreary weather. Several notable literary works emerged from this friendly storytelling competition. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Lord Byron’s poem Darkness, and the seeds of a novel about a blood-sucking man, which was used later by John William Polidori to write The Vampyre.

Averill: This story might have been dramatized somewhat. But only in recent decades have scholars connected the Tambora eruption to this semi-mythical origin story for the Gothic movement in art and literature. But English literature was not the only cultural consequence of Tambora’s climatic impact. In the Chinese province of Yunnan which we discussed earlier, a new genre called famine poetry developed among the residents of the province. One poet,  Li Yuyang, was forced to return home to save his parents from bankruptcy during the famine. He watched his neighbors commit beastly acts such as infanticide, child sales and murder in hungry desperation. He barely survived himself. Suffering from malnutrition and mental illness after the famine, Li died ten years later at the age of 42. Here is an excerpt from one of his poems, translated into English:

“People rush from falling houses in their thousands …
(It) is worse than the work of thieves. Bricks crack. Walls fall.
In an instant, the house is gone. My child catches my coat
And cries out. I am running in the muddy road, then
Back to rescue my money and grains from the ruins.
What else to do? My loved ones must eat.
He writes of parents selling their children for food.
Still they know the price of a son
Is not enough to pay for their hunger.
And yet to watch him die is worse …
The little ones don’t understand, how could they?
But the older boys keep close, weeping.”

Marissa: Art historians have successfully correlated the post-Tambora optical aerosol depth with the 1816-1817 painting Greifswald in Moonlight by German painter Caspar David Friedrich. So we know with confidence that his painting would have been entirely different if it weren’t for Tambora’s eruption. English painter William Turner developed his painting style after observing the unique and spectacular sunsets of the Year Without a Summer. Ironically, his 1817 painting Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius is the best example of this influence even though Turner had no idea that he was witnessing volcanic skies himself.

a dark painting of Weymouth Bay, 1816 by John Constable

Weymouth Bay, 1816, John Constable | c. Victoria and Albert Museum

Averill: Several inventions have also been connected to Tambora’s climatic impact. In 1817 German inventor Karl Drais patented the “walking machine” which is a walking bicycle.. so basically a bicycle without pedals. Drais perceived a need for alternate modes of transportation when the Year without a Summer made grain so expensive that few people could afford to feed horses anymore. During the heights of famine, many horses died of starvation or were killed for meat by their owners. People were in need of a device that would help them travel faster but one that they would not need to feed.

Marissa: This is interesting to me because it tells us that Drais, and his peers had no idea that this was going to pass. They might have thought this was the new normal… because they had no way of knowing that this was a temporary effect of a volcanic eruption.

I wonder how many people felt that way in Europe… that it was dark times and that it wasn’t going to improve. This mindset might have precipitated mass migration to America. The beginning of the first 19th-century wave of immigration to America coincides exactly with the eruption. And most people who came to America cited civil unrest and famine as their motivating factors for leaving Europe. The Irish and Swiss, and Germans made up a majority of this immigrant wave and those were areas that were particularly influenced by volcanic climate change.

Averill: There was also a lot of migration within North America. Land was becoming more scarce on the east coast and the crop failures following the Mount Tambora eruption sent settlers from the Eastern seaboard into the frontier in search of fertile land and resources. This westward movement triggered violent interactions with indigenous peoples which came to characterize the Wild West. So basically… without Tambora we would not have had Manifest Destiny and absolutely zero Spaghetti Westerns…. Just kidding… but really, this sequence of events illustrates how fragile our ecosystems really are. And that our ecosystems are interwoven with human systems in ways that we never realized in the past.

Marissa: We should mention that there was SOME idea that volcanic eruptions were related to weather patterns early on. Benjamin Franklin, for example, posited a correlation between volcanic emissions and weather anomalies. Swiss botanist Heinrich Zollinger was born a few years after Tambora erupted but in the 1830s he studied botany at the University of Geneva and became interested in volcanology. Ever since the Year without a Summer, Swiss scientists had suspected a correlation between the Tambora eruption and the following years’ weather anomalies. In the 1840s, Zollinger moved to Java and spent time studying Tambora. In 1847 he made a detailed drawing of the Tambora caldera and spoke with locals on the island, though he found it to still be depopulated. According to his report, Sumbawa communities were still recovering from the disaster even though it had been 30 years.

Averill: The Swiss never made any definitive connections between volcanic activity and climatic change but by the time of the Krakatoa eruption in 1883, the science community was eager to find such proof. This time, they were backed by a horrified and fascinated international press which turned the eruption into a global event. It helped that the first successful transatlantic telegraph cable had just been laid 17 years earlier. In 1815, it took 6 months for news of the Tambora eruption to reach Britain. When Krakatoa erupted, the entire world was notified within hours. Popular interest in the eruption encouraged geological studies and a public scientific discourse which led to the discovery of how volcanoes function and how they impact the atmosphere.

Marissa: It’s interesting to think of more subtle ways that inclement weather might have impacted culture. Were people generally more depressed for those few years? Was there an increase in mental illness? Vitamin D deficiency?  Or even criminality and domestic violence? Does it have anything to do with the enthusiastic reception of Marxism decades later?

Sources and Further Reading:

Brönnimann, Stefan, and Daniel Krämer. Tambora and the “Year Without a Summer” of 1816: A Persepctive on Earth and Human Systems Science. 2016.

Broad, William J. “A Summer Without Sun.” New York Times April 25, 2015, D1.

Cao, Shuji, Yushang Li, and Bin Yang. 2012. “Mt. Tambora, Climatic Changes, and China’s Decline in the Nineteenth Century”. Journal of World History. 23, no. 3: 587-607.

Gao, Chaochao, Yujuan Gao, Qian Zhang, and Chunming Shi. 2017. “Climatic Aftermath of the 1815 Tambora Eruption in China”. Journal of Meteorological Research. 31, no. 1: 28-38.

Dennis, Matthew, and Munger, Michael. 1816: “The Mighty Operations of Nature”: An Environmental History of the Year Without a Summer. 1816: “The Mighty Operations of Nature”: An Environmental History of the Year Without a Summer. University of Oregon, n.d. <>.

Harington, Charles Richard. The Year Without a Summer? World Climate in 1816. Ottawa: Canadian Museum of Nature, 1992.

Lebowitz, Rachel. Year of No Summer. Biblioasis, 2018.

Roach, John. “‘Lost Kingdom’ Discovered on Volcanic Island in Indonesia.” National Geographic News. February 27, 2006,

Sullivan, Michael. “Mount Tambora Eruption Hardly Known.” NPR. October 27, 2007.

“The Tambora Eruption and ‘The Year Without Summer’,” History in an Hour,

Mount Tambora and the Year without a summer


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