CFP: The Environmental Histories of Ports and Ocean Trade

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The Environmental Histories of Ports and Ocean Trade
18-19 September 2015
Centre for Port & Maritime History
Liverpool, England

The waterfront of the great port city of Liverpool is still dotted with huge warehouses that were once dedicated to the oceanic trade in a wide variety of different natural products; from rice and sugar to bananas and cotton. They are testament to profoundly important commodity trades that encircled the world, helping to establish Liverpool as a leading commercial metropolis of the British Empire.

Throughout history, humans have exchanged and traded in biological agents, specimens, and commodities, often with very dramatic and unequal effects on environments and ecologies, cultures, nations, and economies. Since the Columbian Exchange, the number of organisms (human and non-human) passing through the world’s ports has increased dramatically. Natural resource extraction, exploitation, and transfer has been both enriching and denuding – for human societies and natural worlds. Impacts are felt in both exporting and importing locations. They have reshaped human nutrition and been central to core industries of the first, second, and third industrial revolutions. They have introduced new sources of pleasure and enjoyment to societies, as well as inducing fear and anxiety about invasion by ‘alien’ species. Port cities are obvious loci for these very long-running and deeply embedded flows and processes. They are key points through which transfers are handled and in which they are made manifest. Ports have risen and fallen with the fortunes of the resources passing through them. They have helped reshape ecologies and have themselves had their own environments reshaped, for example by dramatic changes in waterfront topography or the importation and naturalization of non-indigenous species of flora and fauna. Building on a growing interest in integrating environmental history with other sub-disciplines, this two-day conference will reflect on environmental histories of port cities and ocean trade. This theme will have a wide appeal, to, amongst others: environmental historians and historical geographers, food historians, social and cultural historians, business and economic historians, historians of empire, subaltern studies, archaeologists. Topics of potential interest might included but are not limited to:

  • Ports and environmental knowledge
  • Environmental histories of oceans, estuaries, and marine life
  • The role of ships in connecting transoceanic ports
  • Ports in the age of sail versus the age of fossil fuels
  • Ports in temperate and tropical worlds
  • Ports as exotic and liminal environments
  • Ports, urban development, and pollution
  • Ports, tourism and the environment
  • The environmental histories of fishing industries and fishing ports
  • Commodities, empires, and expansion?
  • Changing port and riparian topographies and ecologies
  • Quarantines: human and non-human
  • Environmental history, ports and food systems (from cuisine, to food security, to the political economy of international food trade)
  • Ports as sites of biological – and other – invasions
  • Ports and climate history
  • The built environments of port landscapes and waterscapes: histories and legacies

The conference organizers are interested in receiving proposals for either individual papers or full panels. For individual papers please send an abstract of no more than one A4 page and a brief biography. For panels (no more than three papers) please send abstracts and biographies for each paper and a cover sheet briefly outlining the rationale of the panel. Please send all proposals to Professor Andrew Popp at by Monday 20th July 2015.

Please visit the Centre’s website for more information.

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Assistant professor in the Department of History at Simon Fraser University. I research and teach Canadian and environmental history, with a special focus on the Arctic and Subarctic.

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