Podcast archive 2010

Podcast 40: Reframing a vision of lost fens

Wicken Fen

The landscape of Wicken Fen
(Photo: Jan Oosthoek)

Wetlands were once common over a large part of eastern England. Of these so-called fens only two percent survives today and most of it is now situated in nature reserves. One of these reserves is Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire. It represents a landscape that was once common in the region, combining sedge fens, reed beds and woodland, and was once a major source of food and fuel for local communities. Wicken was one of the very first properties to be bought by the National Trust in 1899. Today Wicken Fen is the focus of a controversial proposal to radically expand the area of managed wetland around the reserve and to return arable land to its former wetland condition. On this podcast we interview Stuart Warrington, Nature Conservation Advisor for the National Trust at Wicken Fen, about these proposed changes and the role of history in recreating the wetlands.

Map Wicken fen

Map of Wicken fen and location.
Source: Ordnance Survey, One-inch
to the mile maps of England and Wales,
New Popular Edition, 1945-1947,
sheet 135.

The second half of the podcast is devoted to a talk delivered by Ian Rotherham of Sheffield Hallam University at a two-day workshop organised by the Histories of Environmental Change Network in November 2010. In his talk Ian analyses the attitudes towards the fens over the centuries and how these influenced the desire to drain thousands of square kilometres of wetland. He also considers the rich wild life in these wetlands and what a rich resources these provided for its inhabitants.

Website mentioned
Histories of Environmental Change

Literature cited
Rod Giblett, Postmodern Wetlands: Culture, History, Ecology (Edinburgh University Press, 1996)

T. C. Smout, Nature Contested: Environmental History in Scotland and Northern England since 1600(Edinburgh University Press, 2000)

Music credit
Mechanics in Love (Cue 3) flac Stems” by boomaga
Available from ccMixter

Podcast 39: Slavery, fossil fuel use and climate change: past connections, present similarities

What is the connection between the abolition of slavery, the Industrial Revolution, the use fossil fuels and climate change? Jean-François Mouhot of Birmingham University recently discussed this question in an article in the journal Climatic Change. In this episode of the podcast Mouhot presents his idea that that slaves in the past and fossil-fuelled machines at present play similar economic and social roles: both slave and modern societies externalised labour and both slaves and modern machines freed their owners from daily chores. Consequently, modern society is as dependent on fossil fuels as slave societies were dependent on bonded labour. Mouhot also suggests that, in differing ways, suffering resulting (directly) from slavery and (indirectly) from the excessive burning of fossil fuels are now morally comparable. The pocast concludes with some suggestions of the lessons which may be learned from the abolition of slavery in the 19th century for dealing with modern climate change and the associated energy transition.

Literature cited
D.B. Davis, Inhuman bondage, the rise and fall of slavery in the new world (Oxford: University Press, Oxford, 2006)

Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains: The British Struggle to Abolish Slavery by (Macmillan, 2005)

J.R. McNeill, Something new under the sun. An environmental history of the twentieth century (London: Penguin, 2000)

J. R. McNeill and William H. McNeill, The Human Web: A Bird’s Eye View of World History (New York: W. W. Norton, 2003)

Jean-Francois Mouhot, “Past connections and present similarities in slave ownership and fossil fuel usage”, Climatic Change, Published online, 25 November 2010,http://www.springerlink.com/content/w310wk5g49w83650/ (freely accessible until 31 December 2010).

Relevant links
Jean-François Mouhot, “Slavery and Climate Change: Lessons to Be Learned”History & Policy (2009)

Jean-François Mouhot, “Cancun Summit: The True Reasons for the ‘Failure’ of the Green Movement”, ActiveHistory.ca (2010).

Podcast 38: The draining of the East Anglia Fens: social unrest, design flaws and unintended environmental consequences

This episode of the podcast examines the history of the Fens, a region of wetlands in East Anglia in England. The Fenland primarily lies around the coast of the Wash in the Northern top of East Anglia.

The Fens are at or just above sea-level and, as with similar areas in the Netherlands, much of the Fenland originally consisted of wetlands which have been artificially drained since the Middle Ages and continue to be protected from floods by a system of drains, dams and pumps. Much of this work was carried out during the 17th century. With the support of this drainage and coastal protection system and because of its fertility, the Fens have become a major agricultural region in Britain for grains and vegetables.

The story of the reclamation of the fens is one of social unrest, design flaws, money problems and unintended environmental consequences. The guest on this episode of the podcast is Julie Bowring, a PhD candidate at Yale University and she is in the final stages of writing up a dissertation on the so-called Great Level of the Fens in Cambridgeshire, England.

Map Great Level

Development of the Great Level, 1503-1658. Map: Julie Bowring/Wikipedia

Website mentioned 
Histories of Environmental change

Literature cited
H.C. Darby, The Draining of the Fens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1940)

Music credit
The Pond ” by Chuck Berglund
Available from ccMixter

Podcast 37: The First World War and the transformation of forestry in British Columbia

Canadian Forestry Corps

Canadian Forestry Corps in France
unloading timber during World War I.
Source: National Library of Scotland

During the First World War thousands of foresters left the logging camps of British Columbia and other parts of Canada to serve in the Canadian Forestry Corps in Europe. The Forestry Corps was set up to help European allies producing sufficient amounts of timber from their forests for the war effort. In Europe, these Canadian foresters were confronted with intensive forest management practices, unknown to them back home.

After the War the British and other European governments appealed to Canada for tree seed to replant the devastated European forests. To meet this demand the British Columbia provincial government established a system for fir cone harvesting, seed extraction and overseas shipment. Although this was deemed appropriate for forests in Europe, the hand planting of tree seedlings was considered neither economically feasible, nor desirable as a method of forest regeneration in Canada. In this podcast episode David Brownstein of the University of British Columbia explains how the coincidence of the exposure of Canadian foresters to European forestry management practice and the post-war seed collection were to transform Canadian forestry, leading to the abandonment of the policy of natural regeneration.

Website mentioned 
AAC2010: Environments

Music credit
The Way” by Pitx
Available from ccMixter

Podcast 36: Island Environmental Histories: the Ogasawara Islands

Ogasawara Islands

Location of the Ogasawara Islands.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Islands are complex ecological objects produced through flows of flora, coral polyps, human migration, and global capital.  They are places that are constantly being changed through human and non-human action.  Therefore, they are wonderfully rich sites for environmental historians, not to mention cultural, economic, and historians of science, to examine.  They are less miniature worlds than they are places made by the convergence of worlds. In this podcast Colin Tyner, a PhD candidate at the University of California, Santa Cruz, examines the Ogasawara Islands group and it environmental histories.

The Ogasawara Islands are situated one thousand kilometres south of Tokyo in the Pacific Ocean. They were first settled in the 19th century and went through distinct phases of exploitation, military use and nature conservation during this period reflecting changing attitudes to the natural world. Colin will illustrate how different social, cultural and natural worlds converged on the Ogasawara Islands.

Blogs mentioned 
Colin Tyner, The Labour of Nature and Island Life
Place and Placelessness virtual workshop

Music credit
Aerofonia” by Mario Mattioli
Available from ccMixter

Literature cited
Anderson, Jennifer, “Nature’s Currency: The Atlantic Mahogany Trade and the Commodification of Nature in the 18th Century”, Early American Studies, 2:1 (Spring 2004).

MacArthur, Robert H., Edward O. Wilson, The Theory of Island Biogeography (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1967).

Ponting, Clive, A green history of the world (London: Penguin, 1991).

Podcast 35: Mountains, the Asiatic Black Bear and conservation in Japan and New Zealand

The guest on this episode of Exploring Environmental History is Japanologist and environmental historian Cath Knight. In her spare time she maintains the blog Envirohistory NZ which explores the environmental history of New Zealand. On the podcast Cath briefly talks about the origins and topics of the blog before exploring her work on Japanese environmental history. She will discuss Japanese conservation history, in particular in relation to the Asiatic black bear and the conceptualisation of uplands and mountains in Japanese and Maori folklore. In many cultures, cosmologies define attitudes towards nature and the way that people interact with their environment. Cath also considers why the trajectory of Japanese conservation history is quite different from the European and North American perspective.

Blog mentioned 
Envirohistory NZ

Music credit
Time Decay ” by morgantj
Available from ccMixter

Podcast 34: Volcanoes in European history


The Eyjafjallajökull ash cloud at 06:00 UTC
on 17 April 2010.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

On 14 April 2010 the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted for a second time in two month after having been dormant for just under 200 years. The second eruption caused an ash plume that was ejected into the stratosphere and transported by the wind to Northwest Europe and all air traffic was shut down. As a result the eruption became a major news story. A secondary reason why the eruption became a major news story is the fact that volcanic ash clouds have not affected Europe in such an immediate way in living memory. But looking at the historical record of volcanic eruptions it becomes clear that these events have affected Europe and other parts of the world in significant ways and sometimes even altered the course of history. This extra edition of the Exploring Environmental History podcast considers a small sample of such volcanic event events, including the 536 AD dust veil event, the Black Death and the Laki eruption of 1783.

Resources and further reading
Nature as Historical Protagonist by Bruce M. S. Campbell, The Tawney Memorial Lecture 2008
Watch the lecture online

Gavin Schmidt, 536 AD and all thatRealClimate

L. B. Larsen et.al., “New ice core evidence for a volcanic cause of the A.D. 536 dust veil”, Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 35, L04708, 5 PP., 2008.

R. A. Dodgshon, D. D. Gilbertson & J. P. Grattan, “Endemic stress, farming communities and the influence of Icelandic volcanic eruptions in the Scottish Highlands”, Geological Society, London, Special Publications; 2000; v. 171; p. 267-280.

Stephen Self, Icelandic eruptionsopen2.net

Podcast 33: Distance learning environmental history and Scottish forestry

The creation of a conventional classroom based environmental history course is challenging because of the diversity of topics involved. A distance learning course in environmental history delivered trough the Web is even more challenging. This requires a different approach to integrate written material, audio, video, map material and online datasets and to put it in a coherent package to make it relevant to the context of each student. This edition of the podcast features Richard Rodger, Professor in Social and Economic History at the University of Edinburgh, who talks about a new distance learning masters programme in Landscape, Environment and History. This interview is followed by an audio extract from a video lecture about Scottish forest history to illustrate the type of content that the masters programme has on offer. Jan Oosthoek talks in this interview about the importance of land management agencies such as the British Forestry Commission in influencing the appearance, nature and use of the landscape in modern times.

Website mentioned in this podcast
MSc in Landscape, Environment and History – University of Edinburgh (link and MSc programme are no longer active).

Music credit
Piano Sketch 01” by Mario Mattioli
Available from ccMixter

Podcast 32: Empire and Environmental Anxiety

At present there are many environmental anxieties related to pollution, species extinction, climate change, acid deposition and many others. However, environmental anxieties are nothing new and were also experienced during the colonial period of the 19th and early 20th century. Colonial authorities and settlers in the British Empire encountered unfamiliar environments and the combination with environmental changes caused by their activities led to widespread environmental anxieties. The most important concern was anxiety over climate change. In 19th century debates surrounding this issue, highly emotive, highly alarmist arguments were made that are very similar to the ones used today. In this episode, James Beattie, Senior Lecturer at the Department of History of the University of Waikato in New Zealand explores these anxieties of settlers, scientist and colonial officials in India, Australia and New Zealand.

Music credit
Terra Incognita” by ditto ditto
Available from ccMixter

Podcast 31: Environmental History of the 2012 Olympic site: the Lower River Lea

Map London

London and West Ham ca. 1901.
Map courtesy Jim Clifford

Former industrial sites worldwide are constantly reinvented and redeveloped reflecting changes in economies and societies over time. Nowhere else in Europe is regeneration of a former industrial site more spectacular than the 2012 Olympic site on the banks of the River Lea in West Ham, East London. The creation of the Olympic park promises the rehabilitation of the Lower Lea Valley by restoring its eco-system and revitalising the community of the area.

But the Lower River Lea has a long history, going as far back as the 11th century, of industrial development and associated environmental degeneration. Jim Clifford, a doctoral student at York University in Toronto, talks in this episode of the podcast about the environmental and social history of West Ham and the Lower Lea River. He highlights that there have been attempts in the earlier 20th century to improve the Lea River’s environmental and social conditions but that the high expectations of these schemes were not always met.

Blog mentioned in this podcast
Westham and the Lower Lea River – Blog by Jim Clifford

Music credit
Trawnicing” by Pitx
Available from ccMixter

Podcast 30: Green Colonialism in Zimbabwe

Environmental history of the British Empire seems to revolve around the theme of imperial forestry and Zimbabwe is no exception. In this edition of the podcast Vimbai Kwashirai, Lecturer in African History at Durham University, examines the debates and processes of woodland exploitation in Zimbabwe during the colonial period (1890-1980). He is doing this along the lines of Richard Grove’s thesis of Green Imperialism, but he goes beyond that by placing conservation and forest history into the broader social, political and economic history of Zimbabwe and the wider British Empire.

More information on Book Green Colonialism in Zimbabwe 
Cambria Press website

Music credit
Soon, this is it!” by DrGoldklang. Available from ccMixter


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