Wed, 15 Mar|
Cows, ploughs, and sluices: the environmental politics of ‘wetland improvement’ in seventeenth-century England
Dr. Elly Robson (University of Cambridge)
Time & Location
15 Mar 2023, 17:30 – 19:00
IMEMS, 7 Owengate, Durham DH1 3HB, UK
About the event
Organised by the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS) as part of the IMEMS Seminar Series.
(Free) Hybrid event: in-person (no registration required) and online (registration required through this link: https://durhamuniversity.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_11AwKxmZQ2-kiedwkgpJow)
Original Page: https://www.durham.ac.uk/research/institutes-and-centres/medieval-early-modern-studies/events/general-events-/imems-seminar---epiphany-term-2023/
This paper re-examines histories of agricultural change in early modern England from environmental perspectives, suggesting that we need to look beyond ‘the land’ to investigate the management of water, soil, plants, and animals. It traces the environmental politics that unfolded during one of the most rapid and controversial agricultural innovations of the seventeenth century: state-led projects to drain, enclose, and cultivate wetland regions. Such schemes afford unique insights into the way that ideas and practices of ‘agricultural improvement’ interacted to reshape wetlands by redistributing risk, responsibility, and resources. While recent studies have emphasised increasing governance of the natural world by centralising states and local institutions in early modern Europe, this paper examines how local communities experienced and navigated improvement on the ground. It traces arguments made by rival groups – in legal testimony, riots, petitions, and ‘sewer commission’ records – about scarcity and abundance, improvement and degradation, risk and vulnerability as a means to legitimise their right to govern wetland environments. It further highlights how conflict exceeded institutional parameters. Flood risk and resource rights were negotiated via material acts in wetlands, such as digging, grazing, and rioting, producing unsettled environments of flux.