Snapshots from Europe: NiCHE Photo Contest Entries

The Great Wall along the western side of the harbour at Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk in early February 1953 and today

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As the last days of summer begin to slip away I plan to post some of the early entries to the NiCHE photo contest “A Snapshot of the Field.” Today’s posts are from Europe; more from the United States and Canada will follow. If you’ve already sent in your photos and have some new material you are welcome to submit more entries. We hope to fill the map with some of the great research, writing and photographs in environmental history and historical geography.

Dolly Jørgensen, Department of Ecology & Environmental Science, Umeå University

"Just Touch Me!" Muskox at the Vitenskapsmuseet, Norway. Photo D. Jørgensen
“Just Touch Me!” Muskox at the Vitenskapsmuseet, Norway. Photo D. Jørgensen

Photo: ‘Just touch me!’
Coordinates*: 63.429145,10.387476

On 23 June 2013, I was coming toward the end of a week and a half archival work / field visit driving tour through Sweden and Norway for my Return of Native Nordic Fauna project. I decided to make a short stop at the Vitenskapsmuseet in Trondheim, Norway, to see if it happened to have any of the animals I am researching on display. Within a dusty exhibit titled ‘Natur-miljø’ (Nature environment) on a dimly lit balcony-style floor, I saw this secluded muskox standing in the corner. It is a descendent of muskox caught in Greenland and reintroduced to Norway in the 20th century. It seemed to cry out for attention to break its dreadful loneliness with the words poignantly written by curators on the ground: ‘Just touch me!’ And indeed it appears to have been touched many times over the years, as almost all of its qiviut, the muskox’s softest and most valuable wool, was missing from the middle of its back. Like many other visitors to the museum, I touched the muskox, but in addition to hair, I could feel the cold plastic form over which the skin had been stretched to make the mounted specimen standing before me. In my tactile encounter in the corner, reaching out and touching the muskox exposed how unnatural nature often is.

Photograph and text by Dolly Jørgensen, Umeå University, Sweden

Alexander Hall, Research Associate at the University of Manchester

The Great Wall along the western side of the harbour at Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk in early February 1953 and today
The Great Wall along the western side of the harbour at Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk in early February 1953 and today

Photo: Still vulnerable today?
Coordinates: 52.971981, 0.849717

This composite image of the Great Wall along the western side of the harbour at Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, England shows in the inset men repairing damage after a catastrophic coastal flood in early February 1953 and the same defensive wall today.

The east coast storm surge and flooding of January 31st, 1953 was the worst naturally triggered disaster in twentieth-century Britain. In the UK alone, it accounted for 440 deaths, over 160,000 acres of flooded land, 1,200 breaches of sea defences, damage to 24,000 properties, and the evacuation of over 32,000 citizens.

The 1953 floods triggered significant changes in British flood policy and management, however despite continued investment in sea defences in this sleepy coastal village the photograph clearly highlights that little has changed since 1953. As the population continues to expand into at-risk areas and with sea levels predicted to rise, if society as a whole does not remember events like the North Sea floods of 1953, we are at risk of letting hubris, cost-benefit-analysis, and myopic planning policy take control of our disaster preparedness and resilience.

The main photograph is taken in January 2013, whilst the inset is from early February 1953 and was taken by Professor J.A. Steers of the Geography department at the University of Cambridge shortly after the floods struck on 31st January – 1st February 1953.

The location of the photograph is facing north on the raised embankment that runs parallel to Beach Rd‎, Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, NR23 1DR, UK.

Photograph and text by Alexander Hall, University of Manchester

*Coordinates optional.

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I am an Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair at the University of Prince Edward Island where I teach in the Applied Communication, Leadership & Culture Program in the Faculty of Arts. My research focuses on the history of biomass energy and agriculture. From 2012-2014 I was the NiCHE project coordinator, and I served on the NiCHE editorial board until 2018.

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