For the past three years, I have been researching the reclamation of the Athabasca Oil Sands and the Sydney Tar Ponds…from across the pond.
As a PhD candidate, I had a chance to travel between my fieldwork sites in Canada and the University of Stirling. Located at the gateway to the Scottish Highlands, the sprawling green campus is home to one of the UK’s leading environmental history research groups, the Centre for Environmental History and Policy (CEHP). Established in 1999, the Centre has grown into an interdisciplinary umbrella that includes scholars of law, history, policy, and the environmental sciences focusing on Scotland, the north Atlantic, and the wider world. As a PhD student at Stirling, I not only studied the field’s burgeoning historiography; along with a great group of other postgrads, I learned about contemporary energy and heritage policy. We also received training in environmental science techniques, looking over the shoulders of Centre faculty and postgrads as they tested soil and pollen samples in an effort to track the long-term implications of climate change.
Although Centre staff meet monthly to present ongoing research, visitors hoping to meet CEHP researchers and postgraduates might have better luck traveling even further north, as Centre staff take frequent field trips to explore features of the Scottish landscape. During my time in Stirling, I went on trips to see contaminated mine sites, new hydro projects, medieval land management regimes, and the remnants of medieval burghs. We also did some ‘Munro Bagging’–that is, climbing some of the very tall Highland mountains.
Back in Stirling, I was impressed by the CEHP’s ongoing drive to make environmental history accessible to local residents. Catherine Mills, a historian specializing in post-extraction mining sites, helped organize a series of extremely popular community lectures and is currently bringing her project on rural deindustrialization to local schools. As well, during the 2013 Landscapes of Conflict conference, the CEHP welcomed community members along with academics from across Europe and North America to discuss major themes in environmental history; paper topics ranged from shrimp farming in southeast Asia to radium contamination in urban Scotland, and the environmental impact of armed conflict in Southern Africa.
Stirling also has several links with Canadian environmental history research and scholars. Ryan O’Connor, an authority on Canadian environmental movements, is an associate member of the CEHP, while Tim Newfield, a Canadian scholar and expert in Carolingian and Early Ottonian European farming, recently joined the faculty as a research fellow. Julia Jansoozi, a Canadian lecturer in Stirling’s Communications, Media & Culture department, has done extensive research on industry-community relations in the Alberta oil industry. As well, geoarchaeologist Paul Adderley, the Centre’s director, is researching early human settlement near the Great Lakes and other parts of the boreal forest such as northern Alberta. Stirling’s postgraduate program also provides some neat opportunities for comparative research of the Atlantic world. For example, Sharla Chittick, a recent Centre PhD graduate, investigated environmental practices and cultural perceptions of the Hebridean and Wabanaki peoples from deglaciation to the eighteenth century, paying particular attention to their divergent responses to imperialism and climate change.
CEHP faculty were also quite gracious about rolling out the welcome mat (and providing access to computers and the library) when aspiring Canadian environmental historians ventured across the pond for short visits. It was neat to introduce Stirling and its resources to friends from New Brunswick, including Teresa Devor and Jason Hall of UNB. Hall, a PhD candidate writing an environmental history of the St. John River, notes that his time in Stirling gave him a more solid grounding in Scottish history. Working with Centre scholars like Alasdair Ross, who is looking at Scottish tax assessments as indicators of climatic change, Hall was able to widen the breadth and depth of his environmental history expertise. Hall and Devor also joined us on field trips, as well as the inevitable end-of-the-day trip to the pub.
Anne Dance, a Commonwealth Scholar, recently completed her PhD at the University of Stirling