Tag: Netherlands

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 46: Explorations in historical climatology

Thames frost fair

Frost Fair on the River Thames near
the Temple Stairs in 1683-84.
Engraving after a drawing by Jan Wijck.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

For many historical climatologists cold, wet and stormy weather worsened life for most European people and harmed the economy during the early modern period. Warmth on the other hand is generally regarded as a beneficial thing but too much of it is also harmful. This all seems to make sense if one ignores the Dutch economic miracle which transformed a small piece of land on the edge of Europe into the first modern economy just as the Little Ice Age entered its coldest phase. How is this possible in the face of climatic stress?

This is one of that questions that Dagomar Degroot, a PhD Candidate in environmental history at York University in Toronto, Canada, addresses on this episode of the podcast. His research explores the issue of how the changing climate of the Little Ice Age influenced the cultural, military and economic histories of the Dutch Republic during the early modern period. In addition, Dagomar will discuss the pitfalls of determinism and indeterminism in historical climatology, the sources available to historian’s researching climate and the relevance of historical climate research for present day debates about global warming and climate change. Finally, he will talk about the importance of blogging for the historical profession as a tool to communicate research outcomes to a wider audience.

Relevant websites
HistoricalClimatology.com
Climate History Network
CLIWOC

Further reading
Dagomar Degroot, “Does tree ring data reflect global cooling?“, HistoricalClimatology.com, 9 July 2012.
David D. Zhang et.al., “The causality analysis of climate change and large-scale human crisis“, PNAS, October 18, 2011 vol. 108 no. 42, pp. 17296-17301.

Related podcasts

Music credits

Where You Are Now” by Zapac
Available from ccMixter

Flowing Water” by Pitx
Available from ccMixter

Podcast 10: Environmental Connections: Europe and the Wider World

Logo ESEH 2007This special edition of Exploring Environmental History reports on the fourth conference of the European Society for Environmental History which was held at the Free University Amsterdam from 5 to 9 June 2007. The podcast will highlight some of the themes of the conference and includes interviews with presenters on the following topics: the history of pollution, environmental history of the polar regions, marine environmental history and environmental history of war.

Podcast 5: History of flood defences and waste

This podcast looks at the thousand year history of river flood protection in the Netherlands followed by a report on a conference held at the University of St Andrews (Scotland) exploring the complex nature of the relationship between modernity and waste.

Dutch river defences in historical perspective

After the storm surge flood of 1953 the Dutch water management authorities (Rijkswaterstaat) decided upon an ambitious plan to reinforce and increase the height of all dikes and levies in the Netherlands. This not only included sea defences but also river dikes. The project started in the 1960s but initially only sea defences were reinforced and the river area in the centre of the country was dealt with a few years later. Continue reading

Industrial water pollution in the Groninger Veenkoloniën, 1850-1980

Introduction

Location of the Ven Colonies.

Location of the Ven Colonies.

In the north of the Netherlands, in the province of Groningen, is an area called ‘De Veenkoloniën’ (The Ven Colonies or Peat Colonies). This area once provided the main energy source of the Dutch Golden Age: peat. During the period between the beginning of 16th trough the start of the 20th century the peat moors were drained and cut away. In the second half of the 19th century the peat in the Veenkoloniën was almost gone1. What remained was a unique landscape dominated by huge fields and straight canals. This landscape formed the foundation for the agricultural industry that emerged in the second half of the 19th century, with potato starch and strawboard as their main products.

The emergence of the agricultural industry in the Groninger Veenkoloniën caused a quite serious problem: one of the worst episodes of industrial water pollution in the Netherlands. This gave the Veenkoloniën the negative image of a region with filthy and stinking canals, being the concern of the industry, government and population for more than a century. Continue reading