Charismatic encounters: Understanding the role of cetaceans in the coastal and maritime heritage of England and France

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: School of English


Bringing together a leading environmental humanities scholar based at the University of Leeds and an environmental anthropologist based at CNRS/Paris Nanterre, this 18-month collaborative research project aims to assess the usefulness of England's and France's whaling histories to their contemporary whale-watching industries. Whale- and dolphin-watching in England and France today may seem at first sight to have little to do with these two countries' respective whaling heritages, in so far as they are generally organized around conservationist principles that run directly counter to the conspicuous abuses of the past. However, in different and sometimes conflicting ways, cetaceans have made a powerful contribution to English and French coastal and maritime heritage: a mixed heritage that is as much symbolic (intangible) as material (tangible), and that involves multiple players -- and indeed multiple species -- in multiple time frames. The project will examine this heritage more closely, building cooperative networks between the different stakeholders involved in it, and enhancing understandings of the conservationist initiatives it now fosters, and the coastal communities it currently serves.

The project will adopt a broadly comparative, cross-disciplinary perspective consisting of three research strands: whaling history, maritime museums, and contemporary cetacean tourism. These strands will come together in an integrated crosscutting approach that imaginatively combines ethnographic fieldwork, archival research, and the interpretative analysis of museum objects and verbal/visual texts. Ethnographic fieldwork will be conducted at two heritage-rich regional sites, one each in northern England (the Yorkshire coast) and in southwest France (the Basque littoral). Broader insights will be drawn from humanities fields (human-animal studies, blue humanities, environmental humanities) that question the distinction between natural and cultural heritage, and that offer a suitably reflexive view of the changing relationship between human and non-human cultures in the context of a more-than-human world.

Outputs will include a data-driven website, designed for general as well as specialist (tourism industry) use; a 40-minute documentary film, based on in situ research at the two main field sites; two co-authored journal articles; and two short policy reports in such areas as marine tourism regulation and coastal heritage management, and prepared in close cooperation with the project's main external partner, the British-based World Cetacean Alliance (WCA). The project will also work together with the WCA to see whether either or both of its two target regions have the potential to qualify, as part of the WCA's new worldwide accreditation programme, as official Whale Heritage Sites (WHS).


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Description Yorkshire Wildlife Trust 
Organisation The Wildlife Trusts
Department Yorkshire Wildlife Trust
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Members of the University of Leeds-based research team (Huggan and Nicolov) have met up several times with York-based officers of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (YWT) and have shared information on whale- and dolphin-watching and other coastal tourism practices. The research team is in the process of collecting Yorkshire-based oral histories relating to the whaling past as well as the whale-watching present and will make these accessible to the YWT in order to help them with their ongoing regional nature-protection campaigns.
Collaborator Contribution The YWT have helped the research team reach out to local stakeholders, e.g. Yorkshire Coast Nature, and have shared updated information on regional coastal tourism practices and their policy implications.
Impact No outcomes yet.
Start Year 2022