Hugh Platt, 'Diuerse sorts of Soyle' in The Jewel House of Art and Nature (London, 1594) taken from EEBO.
Map from the Norfolk Record Office.

Early Modern Discourses of Environmental Change and Sustainability

Discourses of environment and sustainability constitute a pressing modern concern. Despite their historical heritage, issues of climate change, deforestation, energy and food security, overgrazing, biodiversity, conservation and land management are presented and perceived as fundamentally modern experiences. Little attention has been paid to conceptualising early modern discourses of environment and sustainability, although anxieties over poverty, drought, health, fuel and food shortages, deforestation and floods prevailed during this period. Governments and local communities sought solutions for these very real threats to the socio-economic order and political stability of the nation.

This Research Network, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and supported by English Heritage and the Peninsula Partnership for the Rural Environment (PPRE), aims to advance understanding of both early modern and modern cultures of sustainability through collaborative research. The Network is designed to bring together scholars from across the humanities and social sciences, including specialists working on regions other than Britain, to consider the expression, negotiation and transformation of notions of environment and sustainability over time and place.

Linked workshops, focusing on the period 1500 – 1800, will lead to a major conference at Pendennis Castle, Cornwall, on the broad theme of ‘Environment and Identity’. The conference will extend the geographical, chronological and political scope of the workshops, investigating the relationship between government policies and local initiatives, and encouraging a comparison between past and present. Furthermore, as environmental change has a direct impact upon the meanings of place and the formation of social identities associated with particular locales, a public workshop will take place as a forum for the exchange of ideas concerning issues of environmental change and sustainability in the past, present and future for Cornwall.

Workshop: Sustainable Households and Sustainable Communities

18 February 2011
Innovation Centre, University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Exeter.

This workshop examines conceptions of sustainability within collaborative units like households and localities, as well as in wider debates about "improvement", common land and resource management. Papers will explore issues such as the ethics of resource management and thrift in early modern households, sustainable communities and the politics of order, sustainability and contested common land, and literary discourses of forest management.

Sustainable Households Workshop Programme

Workshop: Sustainable Futures: Crisis Management & the Uses of the Past

27-28 April 2011
Institute of Historical Research, London.

Sustainable Futures Workshop Programme

Past Environments Workshop Poster

Public Workshop: Past Environments and Sustainable Futures in Cornwall

2 July 2011
The Cornwall Centre, Redruth, Cornwall.

Recent concerns about floods, drought, energy efficiency and sustainable land use have brought communities together to devise strategies to cope with environmental change.  On Saturday 2 July a public workshop is being held at the Cornwall Centre in Redruth, to investigate the historical context of these issues. 

Historians from the University of Exeter’s Tremough Campus, will join experts to provide a greater understanding of the human response to changes in the environment and landscape over recent decades.  The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded workshop will use literature, maps, oral history, practical knowledge and the evidence of historical landscapes to analyse the past and how such changes have shaped attachments to place, and local knowledge and memory over time.

Dr GarryTregidga is a historian and assistant director of the Institute of Cornish Studies, at the University of Exeter’s Tremough Campus and is one of the speakers at the workshop.  His talk is entitled 'Locating the Clay Country: Narratives of Landscape and Identity in Mid-Cornwall'.  Dr GarryTregidga said ‘It is important to locate current debates on environment and sustainability in a broader historical context. In that way we can learn from past experiences and apply those vital lessons to the needs of the present and future.’ He added, moreover, the public workshop at Redruth is a useful reminder of the need to 'Think Globally, Act Locally'. By investigating a specific case study like Cornwall we can show how environmental change has been experienced in our own communities'.

Speakers include members of the Institute of Cornish Studies (University of Exeter), CAVA, the Tamar Valley AONB the National Trust, English Heritage, University College Falmouth, VCH Cornwall, and Saveock Water Archaeology.

Past Environments Workshop Programme

Past Environments Workshop Poster

Conference: Environment and Identity  

20-21 July 2011
Pendennis Castle, Cornwall (supported by English Heritage).

Hosted by Exeter University and English Heritage at Pendennis Castle, and also supported by the PPRE (Peninsula Partnership for the Rural Environment), this conference is part of a series of research networking events funded by the AHRC Landscape and Environment Programme. Previous workshops organised by the network were designed to explore early modern discourses of environmental change and sustainability. The conference will extend this scope and bring together scholars interested in a variety of time periods and subjects from across the humanities, social sciences, development studies and policy forums. Its purpose is to generate interdisciplinary, comparative thematic and cross-period collaborations to explore the ways in which individuals and groups express, negotiate and transform their identities in response to changing environmental conditions. The interdisciplinary panels address specific issues under the following broad themes: landscapes, climates, communities, identities, resources, and global narratives of environmental change.

Environment and Identity Conference Programme

Environment and Identity Conference Abstracts


Principal Investigator: Dr. Ayesha Mukherjee (Department of English):

Co-Investigator: Dr. Nicola Whyte (Department of History):

Network Assistant: Jo Esra (Department of English):