Empire, Trees, and Climate in the British North Atlantic: Towards Critical Dendro-Provenancing

Watercolour sketch of the Royal Naval Hospital, Bermuda, built possibly with timber from Nova Scotia or New Brunswick. The Johnson Savage MD Collection, Royal Artillery, ca.1830s (Courtesy of the National Museum of Bermuda)

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A goal of Nipissing University’s Master of Environmental Studies/Master of Environmental Science program is to foster interdisciplinary research on the environment. Recently, Dr. Kirsten Greer, assistant professor of Geography and History, and Dr. Adam Csank, assistant professor of Geography, were awarded a $75,000 Insight Development grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for their two-year project, Empire, Trees, and Climate in the British North Atlantic: Towards Critical Dendro-Provenancing (2014-2016).

Greer, a historical geographer, and Csank, a dendrochronologist, have brought together scholars from geography, marine archaeology, and history to understand how the Atlantic “triangle” trade in timber can inform studies on climate.

In the early to mid-nineteenth century, British North America was an integral site in Britain’s trans-Atlantic trade of timber, fish, sugar, rum, and molasses with the West Indies.  Known today as eastern Canada, the region’s forests and watersheds were transformed into the modern world system as the Crown secured lands and timber rights during the Napoleonic Wars.  Considering that British North American timber was integral to ship-building, imperial infrastructure (dockyards, fortifications, government buildings), and maritime supremacy in the age of sail, the project’s research team will integrate archival and museum research, dendro-provenancing (e.g. analysis of tree ring widths of historic buildings and shipwrecks), and visualizing techniques using GIS in order to uncover important insights into climatic conditions, and forest resource use, of the past.

Partnering with the National Museum of Bermuda, the Department of Conservation Services (Government of Bermuda), and the Bermuda National Trust, other team members include: Dr. Kirby Calvert (Geography, Penn State University), Dr. Kimberly Monk (Archaeology & Anthropology, Bristol University), Dr. Andrew Smith (Management School, Liverpool University), and Margot Maddison-MacFadyen (Interdisciplinary Program, Memorial University).  The SSHRC Insight Development grant draws from earlier work in Bermuda by Dr. Greer when she was a SSHRC Visiting Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of History, Warwick University.

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Kirsten Greer is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Geography and History at Nipissing University, and the Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Global Environmental Histories and Geographies. Her CRC program addresses specifically reparations “in place” from Northern Ontario to the Caribbean through interdisciplinary, integrative, and engaged (community-based) scholarship in global environmental change research. As a critical historical geographer, she is interested in human-environment relations in the past; the environmental histories and legacies of the British Empire; and the politics of biodiversity heritage in the global North Atlantic. Greer is the past chair of the Historical Geography Specialty Group of the American Association of Geographers (2016-2019). She is of Scottish-Scandinavian descent, from the unceded lands of Tiohtià:ke/Montréal. She currently lives and works on the traditional territory of the Nbisiing Nishnaabeg, and the lands protected by the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850.

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