Author: K. Jan Oosthoek (page 2 of 7)

Podcast 69: The Oldest Geordie: Environmental History of the River Tyne

River Tyne

Quayside of the River Tyne with the Bridges connecting Newcastle and Gateshead.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Rivers are at the heart of defining the identity and lifestyle of many cities around the world, and that is nowhere stronger than in Newcastle on Tyne in the Northeast of England on the banks of the River Tyne. The people who live on the banks of the Tyne are fiercely proud of their river. Once the river was an industrial powerhouse of the British Empire, and by the 1880s the Port of Tyne exported the most coal in the world, and the river was amongst the world’s largest shipbuilding and ship-repairing centres.

There has been much consideration of how the River Tyne has shaped Tyneside and Tynesiders, but very little appreciation of the enormous extent to which people have shaped the river. To bear out this invisible history of the river, historian Leona Skelton, a Post-Doctoral Research Assistant at the University of Bristol, has worked on a research project that challenges us to think from a river’s perspective and to include in our river histories the flow pathways which rivers ‘wanted’ to follow, regardless of the changes that humans have forged upon the river. On episode 69 of the Exploring Environmental History Podcast Leona challenges us to look at a river as an historical actor with its own agency.

Leona’s Research was part of the British Arts and Humanities Research Council funded environmental history initiative “The Power and the Water: Connecting Pasts with Futures”, that focuses on environmental connectivities that have emerged in Britain since industrialisation.

Further reading and resources
Archer, D., Tyne and Tide: A Celebration of the River Tyne (Ovingham: Daryan Press, 2003)

Chaplin, M., Tyne View: A Walk around the Port of Tyne (2012).

Charlton, B., Upper North Tynedale: A Northumbrian Valley and its People (Northumbrian Water, 1987).

Cioc, Mark, and ebrary Academic Complete. The Rhine: An Eco-biography, 1815-2000 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002).

Levine, D., and Wrightson, K., The Making of an Industrial Society: Whickham, 1560-1765 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991)

Mah, A., ‘Memory, Uncertainty and Industrial Ruination: Walker Riverside, Newcastle on Tyne’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, vol. 34, no. 2 (2010), pp. 398-413

Marshall, M., Tyne Waters: A river and its salmon (London: H F & G Witherby, 1992)

Rennison, R., Water to Tyneside: A History of the Newcastle and Gateshead Water Company (Newcastle: Newcastle & Gateshead Water Company, 1979)

Blog of Leona Skelton

Music credits
So Cold” by @nop, available from ccMixter

Clash” by zorza, available from ccMixter

Healing” by Stefan Kartenberg, available from ccMixter

The production of this podcast was supported by the Power and the Water project and the AHRC.
AHRC Power and the water

Some thoughts on trees, documents and digital technology

How can digital technology unlock the secrets of an arboretum and make it available to a wide audience? That was one of the main questions of the keynote talk by Jennifer Gardner, curator of the Waite Arboretum at the University of Adelaide, opening the 9th conference of the Australian Forest History Society (AFHS).

In 1928 the arboretum was established on land that was given by Peter Waite (1834-1922), pastoralist and benefactor, to the University of Adelaide. Over time the collection of the arboretum evolved into a valuable resource for teaching, research and a bank of genetic plant and tree material. The collection has been meticulously documented and in the 1980s the handwritten system cards were transferred into a computer database. Continue reading

Podcast 68: Religion and the Origins of American Environmentalism

The Oxbow

Thomas Cole’s The Oxbow (1836). The New England landscape that inspired Calvinist and Puritan ideals about landscape, a scientific world view and moral notions about use of the land. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Ever since Lynn White’s 1967 essay on “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis”, it is common to read in many publications that Christianity is both too anthropocentric and not much concerned with the protection of nature and the environment. Subsequently the environmental movement has developed along very secular lines using science to underpin their arguments for the protection of nature and the environment. For religion there seems no place amongst modern environmentalists. But in in the late 19th century and early 20th century this was quite different and early American conservationists were often deeply religious but had no difficulties in combining this with new scientific ideas about nature. A recent book entitled Inherit the Holy Mountain: Religion and the Rise of American Environmentalism shows that religion provided early environmentalists both with deeply embedded moral and cultural ways of viewing the natural world which provided them with the direction, and tone for the environmental causes they advocated. It reveals how religious upbringing left its distinctive imprint on the life, work, and activism of a wide range of environmental figures such as George Perkins Marsh, John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, Rachel Carson, E. O. Wilson, and others.

This podcast episode explores the history of conservation and religion in America with Mark Stoll, Associate Professor of History at Texas Tech University, in Lubbock, Texas. He is the author of Inherit the Holy Mountain.

 

Further reading and resources

Inherit the Holy Mountain: Religion and the Rise of American Environmentalism, Oxford University Press, 2015

Mark Stoll, “Rachel Carson: The Presbyterian Genesis of a Nature Writer,” in: Nicolaas Rupke, ed., Eminent Lives in Twentieth-Century Science and Religion, 2nd rev. and much exp. ed. (New York: Peter Lang, 2009)

Mark Stoll, “Creating Ecology: Protestants and the Moral Community of Creation,” in: David M. Lodge and Christopher S. Hamlin, eds., Religion and the New Ecology: Environmental Responsibility in a World in Flux (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006)

Lynn White Jr., “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis”, Science, New Series, Vol. 155, No. 3767 (Mar. 10, 1967), 1203-1207

Stephen Fox, The American Conservation Movement: John Muir and His Legacy (Boston: Little, Brown, 1981).

Brian Donahue, The great meadow: farmers and the land in colonial Concord (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004)

Carolyn Merchant, Ecological revolutions: nature, gender, and science in New England (Chaper Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2nd. Ed. 2010)

Website Mark Stoll

Faculty page Mark Stoll, including information on previously published books.

Read Dan Allosso’s review of the podcast episode.
 
Music credits
Where You Are Now” by Zapac, available from ccMixter

On the Threshold” by Stefan Kartenberg from ccMixter

Nature vs. culture or cultured nature?

Yosemite

Scenic landscape of Yosemite Valley. Source: Wikimedia Commons

When most people think of national parks they think of famous examples such as Yellow Stone and Yosemite in the United States or the Serengeti in Tanzania. These parks are large in scale with an emphasis on wild life conservation and the preservation of scenic landscapes.1 Human activity and presence is restricted and regulated and people are mainly visitors. This does not imply that the nature in these places has been untouched by humans. In Yosemite for example there was farming in the past and the management of he park is far from passive. The question is not wether untouched  nature is good and anthropocentric influence on natural systems is less desirable.2  The question is wether we would like to protect nature for the sake of nature or for the benefit of ourselves and other species. It is a question of grades of human interference and impact not one of untouched nature.

In recent years discussions of how to protect nature has been intensified with the debate surrounding the rewilding of landscapes outside of these national parks and some have propose to give more space to nature and restrict human activity.3 A new take on this debate will come from famous biologist E.O. Wilson  in a forthcoming book which proposes to set half of the land surface of the earth apart for wildlife. Unlike some others his take on rewilding is anthropocentric and he does not want exclude people from nature but regards them as an integral part of it.4 This sounds all quite novel but the reality is that in many countries nature conservation and human activity have never been separated like in Yosemite or the Serengeti. Continue reading

Podcast 67: Out of this world: environmental history of near-Earth space

space junk

Sphere of satellites and space junk
surrounding Earth. Image: NASA

Since the early days of the Space Age spent rocket stages, decommissioned satellites, and rubbish of all kinds have contaminated near-Earth space. At present more than 100 million pieces of human-made debris ranging in size from dead satellites to flecks of paint whiz around the Earth at incredibly fast speeds. This cloud of space junk poses a threat to our space infrastructure on which we now depend so much for navigation, communication, Earth surveillance, and scientific and industrial data collection, because even small fragments of a disintegrated spacecraft can seriously damage other satellites.

Does the creation of space debris mean that humanity has extended the “industrial sphere” into near-Earth space? Historian Lisa Ruth Rand, A PhD candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, discusses this question on episode 67 of Exploring Environmental History. She also examines why environmental historians should study the expansion of humanity beyond earth and other space environmental history related issues.

Further reading & resources

Lisa Ruth Rand, “Gravity, the Sequel: Why the Real Story Would Be on the Ground”, The Atlantic, 28 February 2014.

Lisa Ruth Rand, “How Apollo Astronauts Took Out the Trash. One small step for garbage. One giant leap for garbage-kind”, Popular Mechanics, 21 July 2015.

Website of Lisa Ruth Rand

Jan Oosthoek, “New horizons: space, a new frontier for environmental historians”, Environmental History Resources, 16 July 2015.

NASA Orbital Debris Program

Pyne, Steve. “Extreme Environments”, Environmental History 15 (2010) 3, 509-513.

Music credit
The Astronaut” by timberman, Available from ccMixter

Romanticism and nature

Romanticism was an intellectual and artistic movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century. It was a reactionary response against the scientific rationalisation of nature during the Enlightenment, commonly expressed in literature, music, painting and drama. But it was not simply a response to the rationalism of the Enlightenment but also a reaction against the material changes in society, which accompanied the emerging and expanding industrial capitalism in the late eighteenth century. Continue reading

The Role of oral history in environmental history

The advantage of an historian researching the second half of the 20th century is that he or she can interview people involved in the events being studied. Oral history is often used to supplement and confirm the information found in the documentary evidence. Documentary evidence is sometimes missing or inaccessible lacking because of the fact that archives are still closed because of the 30 years rule, like in the UK, or simply because material is lost or does not contain the information one is looking for. Oral history is a tool that can plug gaps in the documentary record or literature and provide new insights into historical developments and events.1

Oral history is certainly not a historical research tool that is exclusive to environmental history. There are however a few characteristics that makes it a challenging technique for environmental historians. It seems that oral environmental history has a unique characteristic that makes it stand out in comparison to other environmental histories. Continue reading

The origins of nature conservation in Britain – A short introduction

The origins of public interest in nature conservation in Britain go back to the early 19th century when Wordsworth wrote about that Lake District that it is a “sort of national property in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy”1. Systematic conservation efforts only started in the latter half of the 19th century and are reflected in legislation such as the first Wild Birds Protection Act in 1872 and the Ancient Monuments Act of 1882, which enabled the state to take care of monuments of historic significance, including landscapes. Continue reading

New horizons: space, a new frontier for environmental historians

In recent years there has been a groundswell of the notion that we are now living in the Anthropocene, the age of man. This is based on strong evidence that humanity is now leaving a very detectable footprint in the earth geological record on a global scale. This includes the fall-out of the atomic tests of the 20th century, climate change is altering the chemical composition of the oceans, and we are shifting more material per year than all natural erosion processes combined. These human activities will leave a signal in the geological record of the planet and be there for millions of years.1

The Anthropocene is the culmination of millions of years of human expansion and increased technological prowess. Initially, the human species lived on the savannahs of East Africa, the original human environment, on which they had no detectable impact because of the low population numbers. Over time the human species migrated out of Africa and by about a thousand years ago they had invaded almost every biogeographical region of the globe, except for Antarctica. When entering new areas humans deliberately or by accident altered local environments to suit their needs. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution this process speeded up with the help of energy available in the form of fossil fuels, culminating in what many now regard as the Anthropocene.

Continue reading

The use of documentary sources in environmental history

Traditional history as it developed during the 19th century depended on written documents that were produced sometime in the past. Originally these sources included only “official documents” produced by government and kings as well as merchants and traders, such as charters but also correspondence. During the 20th century the nature of historical studies changed radically and who is now surprised when historians use economic ideas and data in their studies, or use insights from anthropology, sociology and gender studies? But combining historical sources with data from the sciences takes historical research to an entirely different level. Here is a short guide of the use of documentary evidence in conjunction with data from the natural sciences. Continue reading

Methods and problems in historical climatology

With concerns over global warming, historical climatology has emerged as one of the more important cousins of environmental history. Understanding past climates is important because by understanding the nature of long-term trends and climate fluctuations we can place our present experience in an appropriate historical perspective. In addition, by learning how people in the past responded to extreme weather conditions it may be possible to design strategies to cope with climate change. Here is a brief guide exploring the methods and problems of historical climatology and the opportunities that this provides for historical researchers. Continue reading

Reconstructing past climates

Documentary data
To get a more convincing assessment of a statement such as a regular occurrence of Frost Fairs on the River Thames we need sources that include records of frost dates, droughts, famine, the freezing of lakes, ponds and rivers, duration of snow and sea ice cover, and the dates of flowering of plants. Combined, these historical records can provide insight into past climate conditions. Documentary evidence is, however, generally limited to regions with long literary traditions, such as Britain and parts of Europe, China, and to a lesser extent North America. In addition ship’s logs from Spanish, Dutch and English ships crossing the World’s oceans from the 16th through 20th centuries provide new insights into weather patterns and how these change over time (see CLIWOC project and podcast interview with Dennis Wheeler). Continue reading

Little Ice Age

The Little Ice Age was a period of regionally cold conditions between roughly AD 1300 and 1850. The term “Little Ice Age” is somewhat questionable, because there was no single, well-defined period of prolonged cold. There were two phases of the Little Ice Age, the first beginning around 1290 and continuing until the late 1400s. There was a slightly warmer period in the 1500s, after which the climate deteriorated substantially, with the coldest period  between 1645 and 1715 . During this coldest phase of the Little Ice Age there are indications that average winter temperatures in Europe and North America were as much as 2°C lower than at present. Continue reading

Podcast 66: The UK National Grid: history of an energy landscape and its impacts

Pylons

Electricity Pylons. Source: Geograph.org.uk

We take electricity for granted and do not think of where it comes from when we switch on a light or use an electrical appliance. But behind the electricity coming out of a wall socket lays an entire energy landscape of poles, wires, electrical substations and power stations. It is imposed on the landscape like a gigantic web, a grid that has become almost part of the natural scenery.

Just over a century ago this electricity grid did not exist. Power generation was local or at best regional and often based on the burning of coal or the use of locally produced gas. In less than a century the grid covered the entire United Kingdom and many other countries. It revolutionised our lives, the way we worked and it made air in cities a whole lot cleaner. But how did the development of this energy landscape impact on the landscape and environment? What were the social and economic consequences of the expansion of the grid?

This history is now researched by Cambridge based PhD candidate Kayt Button. Her project is part of the British Arts and Humanities Research Council funded environmental history initiative “The Power and the Water: Connecting Pasts with Futures”, that focuses on environmental connectivities that have emerged in Britain since industrialisation. Episode 66 of the Exploring Environmental History podcast features Kayt’s work and discusses the development of the UK National Grid, and how it changed people’s lives, its environmental impacts and how the past informs the future development of the grid.

Websites mentioned & other resources
The Water and the Power Project website
Blog posts & poster by Kayt Button
Exeter Memories: Electricity Generation in Exeter
South Western Electricity Historical Society
UK National Grid at 75

Music credits
Dance of the Pixels” by Doxent Zsigmond, available from ccMixter
Snowdaze” by Jeris, available from ccMixter

The production of this podcast was supported by the Water and the Power project and the AHRC.
AHRCPower and the water

Podcast 65: Environmental history of a hydrological landscape: the soughs of Derbyshire

Sough tail

Sough tail (Photo: Georgina Enfield)

Under the Peak District of Derbyshire is a subterranean network of drainage tunnels, the so-called soughs that were used to drain the lead mines of the region

Up till the 16th century most lead mining In the Peak District done on the surface and miners followed horizontal seams. By then the surface seams were exhausted and miners had to sink shafts to reach rich underground seams. By the 17th century most mines were down to the water table. To prevent the mines from filling up with water drains or ‘soughs’ were cut through the hills to a neighboring valley. The construction of soughs changed the hydrological landscape of the Peak District, both below ground and above. In some cases the soughs not only drained mineshafts but also the small rivers above, which as a result were dry most of the year. The construction of soughs also reduced the flow of watercourses powering the mills of the early Industrial Revolution. This led to legal conflicts between sough builders and others who relied on the availability of water. Petitions were submitted to the courts and many of these court cases rumbled on for decades.

During the 20th century the soughs were largely forgotten but recently the soughs have been rediscovered for their industrial heritage on the one hand, and their detrimental effect on the hydrology of the landscape, pitting heritage values versus ecological restoration, creating a new battle ground of interests.

This edition of the podcast examines the environmental history of the Derbyshire Soughs with Carry van Lieshout, a historical geographer at the University of Nottingham. She works on a research project that investigates the environmental and cultural history of the Derbyshire soughs in order to inform understandings of this largely forgotten cultural landscape and to develop management and conservation strategies for underground heritage.

Website mentioned
The Water and the Power Project website

Further reading
From Lead to Tail: an Environmental History of the Derbyshire Soughs. Poster presented by Carry van Lieshout at the World Congress of Environmental History in Guimarães, Portugal, July 2014.

Peter Coates, Who killed the Lathkill? (or, when is a river is no longer a river?), The Power and the Water blog, 5 Nov. 2014.

T. D. Ford and Rieuwerts, J., Lead miners’ soughs in Derbyshire, Geology Today, 23 (2007): 57–62. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2451.2007.00604.x

Music credits
Like Music (cdk Mix, 2013 & 2014)” by cdk, available from ccMixter

The production of this podcast was supported by the Power and the Water project and the AHRC.
AHRCPower and the water
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