The Environmental Histories 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 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). The second workshop will take place 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 ). The third workshop is at Kielder Water and Forest, Northumberland (northern Europe’s largest artificial lake and Europe’s largest planted forest). 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.
The award has been made as part of a Research Network initiative on Arts and Humanities Approaches to Researching Environmental Change,’ which aims to establish ‘distinctive, innovative and engaging arts and humanities research perspectives on environmental change through networks of the highest quality and international significance’. The Network contributes to the ‘Living with Environmental Change Programme’, a cross-research council project that represents an unprecedented partnership of organizations that fund, undertake and use environmental research, including the statutory UK Research Councils, government departments, and ‘devolved administrations and delivery agencies’. This ten-year programme will connect ‘world leading’ researchers in the natural sciences, engineering, medicine and the social sciences, as well as the arts and humanities, with policy-makers, business interests, the public, and other key stakeholders.