Pylons with smoke through haze

Witness Seminar: The Birth of the Modern Environmental Movement in Britain

A guest blog from Mitya Pearson (King’s College London):

In June King’s is hosting a Witness Seminar on the birth of the modern environmental movement in Britain. This group oral history event will bring together individuals who were involved in environmental campaigning in Britain during the 1960s and 1970s alongside academic and non-academic experts in the area and contemporary environmental activists. This session will feed directly into my PhD research which is focused on the early history of British Green Party. So far, this research has included fifty extended interviews with early party activists and around twenty-five supporting interviews with individuals involved in other environmental campaigning activity during the 1960s and 1970s.

But how new was the environmental politics of this period? There is an ever-present danger of pinpointing expressions of environmental concern at different points in history and falsely ascribing a novelty to them. William Cavert’s work has demonstrated that while many have suggested concern about smoke (what would now be termed air pollution) was a reaction to the industrial revolution, it was already present in Britain throughout the early modern period. Discussion of nature and humanity’s relationship to it has been a feature of Western political thought since Ancient times.

Scholars concerned with the history of ideas have highlighted the links between contemporary environmental politics and various earlier movements including the romantics, pastoralism, Malthusians and, even, the Nazis. When tracing the concrete developments in the history of the environmental movement in Britain it is generally to the nineteenth century that people have been drawn. This is when the first environmental groups were formed including some which are still very prominent such as the RSPB and the National Trust.

There are though reasons to see the 1960s and 1970s as representing something of a discontinuity from what came before and, in some ways at least, the birth of modern environmental politics. Among various other related developments, this period saw an unprecedent growth in the size and number of environmental campaign groups. It is also widely agreed that there was a shift in approach during this period, environmental campaigning moved beyond concern about landscape and conservation and engaged much more with the underlying social, economic and political reasons for environmental degradation.

The aim of this session is to hear from some of the individuals who were motivated to campaign for the environment during this time. This will comprise a variety of perspectives including those involved in local voluntary activity and those who helped to setup and run national groups. The panels will also include individuals from some of the groups which were formed in the 1960s and 1970s as well as representatives from more traditional organisations which had been around for decades by the 1960s.

The witnesses on the first panel will provide their early memories of their efforts in either joining or setting up environmental organisations. The second panel takes inspiration from Stephen Hussey and Paul Thompson’s approach to studying what they describe as ‘one of the most profound changes in human consciousness over the last fifty years’: the realisation that nature is not an inexhaustible resource which we can plunder indefinitely to satisfy our immediate needs. It will focus on the ‘life stories’ of the individuals, how and why they came to be motivated to campaign on the environment.

To register for the session or for more information about it follow this link.

Mitya Pearson is a PhD researcher at the Centre for British Politics and Government (Department of Political Economy), King’s College London.


PhD funding available for #envhist

A full-time, fully-funded PhD research studentship is available from September 2019 on the project ‘Mosslands in early modern Lancashire: carbon, community and conservation, 1500-1800’, at the University of Manchester.

I’m really excited to be able to supervise this project. It’s an opportunity to push at the boundaries of early modern environmental history, and contribute to a critical conservation and restoration project.

The project will explain the historical decline of mossland landscapes in the North West and contribute to the restoration and reintroduction work of the Lancashire Wildlife Trust. Mosslands are wetland peat landscapes that are the second largest carbon stores on Earth, and are home to unique species of flora and fauna. Despite their ecological value, the UK’s mosslands now cover just 3% of their historic maximum. By producing a history of these mosslands before industrialisation, this project will provide vital historical data to underpin ongoing conservation and restoration work, will demonstrate the historical and cultural value of mosslands, and will explain their role in the transition to an industrial fossil-fuel economy.

The project will focus around three core strands:

  • From peat to coal: energy transformations and the industrial revolution
  • Governing the commons: managing peat as a fragile common-pool resource
  • Creating a carbon landscape: the historic characters of a changing mossland environment

The studentship is a collaboration between historians at the University of Manchester and the Lancashire Wildlife Trust (LWT). The student will be required to work at both the University, and on-site at the LWT office and reserves, including Astley Moss, and Cadishead and Little Woolden Moss. The student will work with the LWT to present their findings to the public. The supervisors at Manchester are Dr John Morgan and Prof. Sasha Handley, and at the LWT Mike Longden (pictured above). A full project brief is attached below.

If you’re interested and would like some more information, drop me an email, or find me on twitter.

The deadline for applications is Monday 25 February at 5pm. Applicants should read the attachment below and submit the following to me at

  • An academic CV (max. 2 pages), including two named referees (one of whom should be your most recent academic tutor/supervisor)
  • A copy of your first degree and Master’s degree transcripts (or anticipated grade if masters is on-going)
  • A letter of application (not exceeding two pages) outlining your suitability for the CASE studentship and how you would anticipate approaching the research.

Find the full studentship advert, application details and project brief here.

mosses footer

Publishing and the early career researcher: a guest post from The White Horse Press

We’re very excited to be partnering with The White Horse Press for the next Environmental History Workshop in 2019. Below, Dr Sarah Johnson, partner at WHP, shares some advice and guidance for early career researchers looking to publish their work.

390779_284519654916585_1886423636_nAt The White Horse Press we are always interested to observe, support and encourage the progress of early career researchers. We are proud to have been involved in the British environmental history community almost from its inception – we began our flagship journal Environment and History in 1995 under the founding editorship of that giant of British environmental history, Richard Grove; and we have attended ESEH conferences from the beginning. We hope to establish an ongoing relationship with Environmental History Workshop. All our publications are linked to the broad theme – some might say the overarching theme of everything! – ‘environment and society’; and my own academic background was a Ph.D. on responses to landscape in 18th c. Pacific exploration accounts. One thing scholars can be sure of when publishing with the White Horse Press is that we understand both the discipline and the academy. I’m confident that almost all our authors would attest that this makes a real difference to the publishing experience. We are (very) small, friendly and personal, but also long-standingly respected in the field and nimble – we have adopted as fast as many of the bigger players new publishing tools such as online submission systems, digital ‘print on demand’ and online first publication of journal articles, whilst resolutely holding onto our humanity (often required in the face of these technical ‘miracles’).

Leona Skelton’s, Tyne after Tyne, recently published with WHP

But a publisher is nothing without authors. We are aware of the difficult current environment for researchers, especially early career researchers, seeking publication. We know that achieving publications in journals or with publishers that are on approved lists – whether for Impact Factor or some other metric – is essential for promotion, funding applications and such hoop-jumping exercises as the REF: we try our very best to make decisions and see through publication speedily; and to support our authors as best we can in meeting the demands of bean counters and promotion boards. For example, we offer Open Access options, as these are often demanded by institutions or funding bodies, but passionately believe that good scholars should not be excluded from publication because they cannot pay page fees. With monographs and edited collections, we aim to make decisions on proposals within a few weeks and to publish within six months of the final MS being submitted, and whilst we will never come near the marketing abilities of the biggest players, our innovative print-on-demand publication model (the books look identical to those with traditional print runs) means that our books are widely available through booksellers and wholesalers worldwide and need never go out of print. POD also reduces print run costs so we can afford to publish works that are unlikely to become bestsellers without undue risk – this definitely works to the advantage of less well-known scholars.

The latest issue of Environment and History

In both our book and journal publishing we try always to be flexible and supportive, and many authors over the years have become friends. Early career researchers with whom we have worked have often come to us highly recommended by senior figures we know of old. Mentoring is more than ever important in the academic environment, and developing networks with more established colleagues is vitally important – not in terms of slavish devotion but because, in my experience, senior environmental historians are some of the nicest people one could hope to meet and endlessly supportive of those rising in the field. Don’t be scared to approach those you admire. Don’t regard the publishing journey as a competition – share your ideas with others ‘ahead of’ ‘alongside’ or ‘behind’ you on the career path and you will often be rewarded. Writing book reviews is an excellent way to ‘score’ publications and – I probably shouldn’t say this! – to endear yourself to editors and publishers who struggle to find willing reviewers. In this, as in all things, be kind but honest. Think of the reviews you would like to receive yourself. Think of the peer reviews of your first journal submission that made you cry, and resolve to choose a different way. Learn early, and hold onto, the difference between fair criticism and attack. And remember that too when you receive peer reviews – take the good advice from them and pass by anything toxic graciously. Personally, I read and often solicit peer reviews for our journals, I make judgments about book proposals and consult with our editors about journal articles. I get to know and form opinions about names and behaviours. My best advice to anyone working in a relatively small field like environmental history is that taking the time to be nice WILL be noticed.

For what it’s worth, I’d offer a few further common sense pointers to early career researchers seeking publication, especially in journals:

  • Write with a journal in mind and respecting its norms – effective targeting of articles so that they meet a journal’s key focus will reap rewards. No overworked editor likes to read a paper that’s clearly a reject from a perhaps higher-ranked competitor or one in a subtly different field! Read and try to adhere to the journal’s stylesheet – on the rare occasions when I copyedit an article with all its references in order, I basically want to marry the author. I will probably publish their book on that basis alone. Whilst being ambitious, consider whether a lower ‘ranked’ but well fitting journal with a faster turnaround time to publication might be a better option. Familiarise yourself with the stats and feel free to ask questions informally before submission.
  • Take feedback on board and, when undertaking revisions do so promptly and making clear how you’ve addressed feedback and which parts you respectfully disagree with (this is allowed!). During the submission, revision and publication process, don’t be afraid to ask – rather than stewing for months, only to discover in the end that an only-human-after-all editor or publisher has lost or forgotten something, make a polite enquiry. But don’t be avid – ten minutes after submission is not the right time; or accusatory if latter scenario turns out to be the case!
  • As touched on above, don’t feel victimised by peer reviews. Try to take the good, ignore the bad and only complain (but never feel afraid to) if you decide – perhaps after talking to others – that you really have been badly treated.
  • If you have the opportunity to attend writing / publication workshops, do. And talk to your colleagues about the nuts and bolts of publishing, as well as your actual research. Try to find out their experiences with different journals and presses – the good and bad aspects, and perhaps any personal contacts they can share.
  • And always wear sunscreen.

Authors and publishers are mutually constitutive. I’d like to conclude this blog by asking what (other than always-elusive riches and glory!) we can do for you? The White Horse Press is proudly independent and free-thinking; we have no intention of being absorbed by a large conglomerate. Can we make a difference, while also making a living?

Utilizing social capital and community conformity to survive short- and long-term change

In our fourth Virtual EHW blog post, Nik Petek offers us an interdisciplinary insight into how communities dealt with environmental stress in East Africa:

While pop culture would make us think that climate change will bring a dystopian future of dispersed groups fighting for survival, past responses by different communities to severe events highlight instances of cooperation and the formation of new identities.

Social capital and community conformity are two of many social forces that shape community responses to both short- and long-term climatic and environmental changes, but they played a particularly important role in the past 200-300 years among East African adaptive strategies and production systems.

Social capital refers to non-material capital that is apparent through social interactions and socially defined gains, including reputation, authority, etc. Community conformity refers to how closely members follow the norms set out by the community. These two forces have helped weather environmental and climatic stresses, which include common droughts, and became especially apparent after a multi-decadal, sub-continental drought from the late 18th to the early 19th century that re-shaped the social landscape of East Africa. They also help bridge the region’s diverse environmental mosaic that promotes production specialisation, such as cattle pastoralism, and help in the formation of distinct identities. The importance of these forces will be shown through the case study of the Ilchamus, a community that lives around Lake Baringo in Kenya’s eastern Rift Valley.

Petek image 1
Lake Baringo, Kenya © Nik Petek

Many parts of East Africa have spatially unequally distributed rains, severe droughts, and seasonally and oftentimes unpredictably available wild resources. To decrease the risk of destitution and the vulnerability to such climatic events, communities invest in social capital to extend their networks and expand their security net within and beyond the immediate community, thus ensuring their social survival by becoming an integral node in a network. This is done by building relationships with other households through marriage, engaging in trade, and being known as a reliable partner. By investing in social capital, people gain access to resources beyond their immediate/personal control and in different environments. Access to other resources and communities is also required in well-off years, as any one area is unlikely to be able to produce all or enough of the required items to fulfil dietary desires and social obligations.

Conformity builds trust between community members by creating commonalities and creating a sense of belonging, making members more willing to cooperate and share resources. In 19th century Kenya, people would commonly aggregate and the success of communities depended on the cooperation of households in production or trade endeavours. Conformity, enforced through the threat of ostracism and the authority of elders, would facilitate the utilisation of ‘economies of scale’, where bigger communities were more efficient users and producers of resources. Social capital and conformity reduced risks and vulnerabilities by allowing destitute people to migrate and resettle, marry off their offspring in times of need, and borrow from acquaintances. Restricted sharing (that is sharing with conditions) and pooling of resources were modelled as two very successful strategies for mitigating droughts.

Petek image 2
Sunlight on Lake Baringo © Nik Petek

The Ilchamus represent a case study where conformity and social capital played a key role in the formation of the community as it is known today. The community started forming during the early 19th century sub-continental drought, which brought together a diverse group of migrants to Lake Baringo. These hunter-gatherers switched to a farming-centred economy after the drought and invested heavily into an irrigation system throughout the 19th century to gain access to livestock, for which grain was commonly exchanged. Livestock, especially cattle, is the lubricant to social and economic transactions, such as marriage, and a necessity to fulfil social obligations. By shifting to an agricultural economy, the community ensured their social survival and built a network, which continued to attract destitute pastoralist throughout the century, while making them a preferred trade partner for both pastoralists and trading caravans. Moreover, the strong pressure exerted by community conformity is exemplified by the fact that Ilchamus and new immigrants either contributed to the agricultural economy and accepted the authority of the elder council or risked being ostracised and forced into destitution. There is also no variation in architecture and the material culture between individuals.

Petek image 3
Boating on Lake Baringo © Nik Petek

The switch from an agricultural to a pastoral economy in the early 20th century brought about by a single warrior generation shows further importance of community conformity and belonging, eventually leading to the formation of an Ilchamus identity. This process, however, was triggered by, among other things, the lack of cattle in the region and the need to fulfil marriage obligations and thus socially survive. As colonial powers eroded the authority of the elder council and the pressure for conformity was reduced, the use of resources became more individualised and resources previously seen as common are now owned, leading to new environmental responses and means of utilization.

Many communities today in the developing world will invest into a specialised economy based on the production of a few items, making them vulnerable to many disturbances. By investing into social capital and building strong, interdependent relationships with other communities, they might be able to reduce the risks they are exposed to and build stronger communities and economies.

You can read more on the topic of community conformity and social capital in Chapter 7 of the book Archaeological Perspectives on Risk and Community Resilience in the Baringo Lowlands, Kenya.


Nik Petek is a PhD student in the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at the Uppsala University, writing a thesis on the historical ecology of the Lake Baringo Basin in Kenya, and on pastoralism in East Africa. You can find Nik’s University profile here, and his LinkedIn here.

Thinking beyond nature: what comes after landscape?

There’s something out there hiding in the landscape.

Or rather, there are things that landscape is hiding. As Dr Lisa Blackmore and her co-editors and co-authors demonstrate in Natura: Environmental Aesthetics After Landscape, landscape is a way of seeing and knowing that is heavy with the weight of history. Bound up with histories of colonialism, capital and modernity, the concept of landscape conceals and distorts how we see and know the environment. In fourteen essays, Natura explores how new bio- and eco-artistic perspectives are reshaping landscape and finding new ways of thinking beyond it.

We were really looking forward to hearing more about some of the ideas in Natura in Lisa’s paper on the aesthetics of hydropower at EHW: Intersections in September. However, as Lisa can no longer make it we’re very happy to share a post on the book instead, reblogged from Coleccíon Cisneros:

Natura: Environmental Aesthetics After Landscape

Natura book cover

Featuring a wide range of critical, literary, and visual forms of essayism, this new book asks whether there can be an environmental aesthetics after the demise of landscape. In this question, “environmental aesthetics” is but a placeholder term, a stand-in for the place left vacant by what, at least since Kant, has been known in Western aesthetics as the question of natural beauty and of its abyss and foundation: the sublime. The landscape-form emerged in the fifteenth century—simultaneously with the beginnings of European colonial expansion—as an imperial apparatus and as the very condition of knowing, from the detached vantage point of an unseen and disembodied beholder, an object-world to be surveyed, classified, and evaluated. Landscape sublimated, in visual pleasure, the loss of an embodied, use-oriented relation with the land, at the same time as it underwrote its transformation into landed capital, into real estate. Landscape, then, has been a key apparatus for both capitalism and colonialism, not least because its constitutive openness—signified in images by the horizon that invites the viewer to venture out beyond its confines—held a promise of infinite accumulation. [Read more…]