Local Places, Global Processes: Histories of Environmental Change

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: School of Humanities

Abstract

The proposed Network revolves around three two-day workshops convened to discuss local and global processes of environmental change at specific locations that provide rich practical examples of such changes. The first workshop will be held in the Quantock Hills, Somerset (a mosaic of upland heath, ancient woodland, conifer plantation and small-scale mixed farming, where many essential ingredients of the romantic perspective on nature were developed by Coleridge and Wordsworth, and which became England's first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty [1956]). The second workshop will take place at Kielder Water and Forest, Northumberland (northern Europe's largest artificial lake and Europe's largest planted forest). The third workshop is at Wicken Fen,Cambridgeshire (Britain's first nature reserve and island of wetland within one of the world's most intensively farmed environments, and with a continuing history as a key site for scientific research since the advent of the ecological sciences). Each site serves as an instructive example of different types of environmental change, anthropogenic and autogenic, long-term and short-term, as well as instances of continuity. At these site-specific workshops, a core team of mainly academic participants will meet with representatives of a local, non-university project partner to critically examine what we mean by 'the environment' and 'environmental change' in both current and past contexts, and on local and international scales. These locations will demand in a concrete and locationally-specific way that we can relate the concepts and histories addressed in the workshops to material processes, and confront us with the direct issue of how material change shapes those histories, along with the opportunity to intensively engage with a wide range of approaches in the humanist tradition - documents, maps, photos, oral history, conversations with managers and ecologists, and art works. Academics and non-academics alike often treat 'environment' as having self-evident meaning. Yet 'environment' is no less socially, culturally and historically constructed than 'nature', 'wilderness' and 'landscape'. The notion of 'environmental change' also requires more critical examination that it has received to date. In addition, workshop participants will address the question of how conflicting narratives (academic and popular) emerge around places - a theme for which workshop locations provide ideal points for exploration - and how narratives of environmental change can engage effectively with current concerns and future scenarios (especially climate change). Many members of the public (and environmentalists) remain wedded to the conceit of a 'balance of nature' and a timeless 'state of nature', especially within protected environments. Yet all ecosystems are inherently dynamic.These workshop settings and agendas will facilitate fruitful and novel interactions and knowlege exchange between those engaged in the study environmental change, past and present, and those who plan for and manage environmental change.

Through these workshops (supported by a website) and Network outputs (working and summary papers, not least to brief project partners on workshop outcomes, and an edited collection of essays), we will provide a framework for the further development of environmental history in the UK by drawing together specialists from across the country in stimulating 'environments' in which to deepen mutual understandings, common interests, future collaborative activities and research projects, as well as strengthening their capacity to engage publicly and inform public policy. The participants include senior, mid-career scholars, and, perhaps most importantly, early-career scholars and research students. Our ambition is to insert environmental history more firmly into the mainstream of historical studies in the UK and to raise its profile among environmental policy makers and managers.

Planned Impact

The Network's impact will be felt most immediately via the three workshops that provide for intensive discussion of its agenda among its core team, project partners and other invited specialists and interested parties. Network activities and findings will be disseminated more widely during its lifetime through a website providing details of workshops and their locations, working and summary papers, podcasts of interviews with the leadership team, project partners and other workshop participants. Reports on Network activities, and materials added to the website, will be circulated electronically to the 'UK and Republic of Ireland' list maintained by the European Society for Environmental History (ESEH) Regional Representative for Britain and Ireland (co-investigator, Moon), and circulated to other ESEH Regional Representatives. Over the longer term, the Network's impact will be extended in the academic sphere through the organization of a roundtable/panel(s) at the ESEH's 6th biennial Conference in Finland (28th June to 2nd July 2011), which will include the participation of additional international specialists. We also plan an edited volume of essays on the theme of 'understanding environmental change: local places and global processes' that draws on presentations and discussions at the workshops and conference panel. A potential model is William Cronon, ed., Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature (1995), outcome of an interdisciplinary residential seminar that dissected the terms 'nature' and 'wilderness' in a manner in which we proposed to dissect 'environment' and 'environmental change'. Cronon's volume has attracted a broad readership both within and outside academia; our volume will aim for a comparable impact.

Our role as environmental historians is not to impose an environmentalist agenda. By bringing our research findings to an audience of academics, environmental managers, environmentalists and the wider public, we will supply a broader perspective, on timescale and interrelations between local places and global processes, that assists the making of informed decisions. In publication terms, our public engagement commitment will be expressed through articles in magazines such as Your Environment (Environment Agency), National Trust Magazine and BBC Wildlife (BBC Natural History Unit). Two core participants (Rotherham and Gill) regularly write on environmental issues for newspapers and magazines and will use their contacts and established links to publicize Network activities and findings. In conjunction with workshop partners, we will prepare materials on understanding environmental change in workshop locations for circulation as educational materials for briefing purposes, schools and public outreach.

One core participant (Cowan) works for a national government organization (Natural England) which fully supports the Network's objectives. And several Network participants have experience of public service and working with policy makers and managers at governmental and NGO level (Lambert, Oram, Rotherham, Smout and Sorlin; Lambert, for example, is an Observer for the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators). Our selected workshop sites all have well established conservation objectives and management policies. Yet how do we plan for the uncertainty of climate change at formally protected sites such as these and others? Faced with what is often considered to be an unprecedented environmental challenge, how can historic examples and processes of environmental change inform future policies? Through interactions with our project partners, we aim to influence environmental policy more generally by contributing our collective expertise in explaining the importance of social and cultural factors to the perception and evaluation of environmental change in past and current contexts.
 
Description This has already been addressed in the end of award report submitted in November 2011.
Exploitation Route N/A
Sectors Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism

URL http://www.environmentalhistories.net/
 
Description 'At the Core of the Quantocks: Wider Dissemination of the Fruits of the Orchard Project'
Amount £20,000 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/L503484/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2013 
End 12/2013
 
Description 'At the Core of the Quantocks: Wider Dissemination of the Fruits of the Orchard Project'
Amount £20,000 (GBP)
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2013 
End 12/2013
 
Description 'Fallen Fruits: Mapping Orchard Decline in the Quantock Hills at Parish Level with Tithe Record and Map Data'
Amount £7,960 (GBP)
Organisation Quantock Hills Sustainable Development Fund 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2012 
End 03/2013
 
Description 'Fallen Fruits: Mapping Orchard Decline in the Quantock Hills at Parish Level with Tithe Record and Map Data'
Amount £7,960 (GBP)
Organisation Quantock Hills Sustainable Development Fund 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2012 
End 03/2013
 
Description 'The Places That Speak to Us and the Publics We Talk With'
Amount £80,000 (GBP)
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2012 
End 04/2013
 
Description 'The Places That Speak to Us and the Publics We Talk With'
Amount £80,000 (GBP)
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2012 
End 04/2013
 
Description Quantock Orchard Mapping Project 
Organisation Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Service
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution My research team has provided funded research expertise to work on a project that the collaborating organization would not have been able to fund from its own resources.
Collaborator Contribution Provision of local knowledge, working space and supervision of researcher.
Impact Two reports on the mapping of historical orchards in the Quantock Hills. Quantock Apple Heritage Day (at Fyne Court, Broomfield, Somerset, 19 October 2013)
Start Year 2010