Tag Archives: ECR

Report on AHRC/LABEX Franco-British Research Workshop 1

Northcott 1Fondation Royaumont, Val d’Oise, France 16-17 January 2015

By Michael Northcott, m.northcott@ed.ac.uk

A Franco-British Research Workshop of grant holders from the AHRC’s Care for the Future grant call and LABEX’s (Laboratory of Excellence) grant call ‘Les passes dans le present: histoire, patrimoine, memoire’ was held at the former Cistercian Abbey of Royaumont 20 miles north of Paris in January 2015. The Abbey was built in the thirteenth century and patronised by Louis XIV. It is situated in a large walled enclosure of gardens, water features and stone buildings. Over the centuries the monks instituted some remarkable hydrological features. The abbey is situated between two lakes on raised ground Northcott labex 2and water from one lake flows through the Abbey grounds and buildings and out to the other lake, Along the way it was stone and sand filtered for drinking water, its flow was used for a mill, while separate channels combined with settlement pools and small weirs were used to separate and cleanse waste water. The resultant water use and supply was very advanced for its era while at the same time the channelling of water around the site considerably enhances the beauty of the buildings and grounds. I was reminded of the similar use of water in the Alhambra at Grenada and indeed the Abbey is an interesting example of Islamic influence on French ecclesiastical aesthetics. This influence is acknowledged in the commentaries provided by the Royaumont Foundation – who are the present owners of the Abbey – on the gardens in which it is pointed out that until 1100 monastic gardens were working gardens providing foodstuffs, herbal medicines and beverage related plants to the monasteries. Northcott labex 3But under Islamic influence the uses of gardens as places of contemplation, and for aesthetic appreciation, became more prominent and vestiges of this turn can be seen income of the restored gardens at Royaumont. The Abbey also had managed woodlands for fuel which can still be seen to the North of the present site.

The title of the workshop was ‘Delving back into the past to look into the present and future’ and the main aim was to explore interconnections between the AHRC Care for the Future and LABEX Pasts in the Present research calls. Both grant themes sponsor modes of representation of the past from interdisciplinary perspectives. A number of the presentations raised issues relevant to the AHRC Environment and Sustainability theme, and I will just highlight these. A fuller Northcott labex 4discussion of presentations is available in the blog by Lucy Veale athttp://careforthefuture.exeter.ac.uk/blog Sophie Richter-Devro, from the University of Exeter, in her presentation on her research into the oral history of Bedouin women in Palestine highlighted the difficulties of writing or documenting flexible, ever changing oral traditions, and the dangers of ‘freezing’ narratives and communities. Paulo Jedlowski, from the University of Calabria, in a philosophical presentation on ‘Memories of the Future’ drew on the work of Koselleck in examining portrayals of ‘future presents’ and ‘present futures’, for example in science fiction novels and films, and discussed how such past imagined futures might underwrite intergenerational connections. Intergenerational connections were also addressed by Richard Haynes, from the University of Stirling, whose presentation on sports heritage in Glasgow demonstrated the use of archival research, geo-referencing and mapping activities with school children to engage with communities across generations. The presentation of Carry van Lieshout from the University of Nottingham on the ‘The Power and the Water’ project linked historical with contemporary research around water management, access and the environment, and revealed conflicts and solutions of the past that may be useful today. Lucy Veale of the University of Nottingham gave a presentation on the Extreme weather project in which she highlighted the importance of archive, datasets, memory and narrative in framing present-day responses to extreme weather. Northcott labex 5Religious understandings of temporality, and specifically deep time, was tackled by Michael Northcott, of the University of Edinburgh, who described the way geological time – as invented by James Hutton and Charles Lyell -displaced human intergenerational history from earth or natural history, a displacement that the new geological epoch of the Anthropocene reverses in ways that are generative of cultural imaginaries of climate change and species extinction. A presentation by Carlos Lopez Galviz, School of Advanced Study, University of London, compared the nineteenth century development of the urbanscapes of London and Paris, and the role of futuristic imaginaries in their respective shaping. In a helpful summative comment Andrew Thompson observed the importance of recognising the multiplicity of imagined todays, tomorrows and yesterdays in our respective projects.

Northcott labex 6The joint workshop was an excellent example of Franco-British cooperation and a new initiative for AHRC and LABEX. Andrew Thompson and director of the LABEX theme, Marie-Claire Lavabre, in their concluding remarks also indicated their clear and joint intention to launch a joint funding call between AHRC and LABEX for research projects involving collaboration between researchers from the Care for the Future theme and the LABEX ‘Les Passes dans le present’ theme.

 

Between cultural and natural heritage

marianna-dudleyby Dr Marianna Dudley, University of Bristol. Cross-posted from The Power and the Water: Connecting Pasts with Futures blog

Between cultural and natural heritage

Dudley 1 chateau

“Fairytale castle”, chateau Chenonceau. Photo: Marianna Dudley.

Chenonceau is a chateau worthy of a fairytale princess. It has turrets and gardens and galleries – and a river running through it. Built between 1514 and 1522 on the site of an old mill, it became the home of Diane de Poitiers, mistress of King Henry II. Diane loved the chateau, and built the bridge over the river. On Henry’s death in 1559, his widow Catherine de Medici demanded that Diane exchange Chenonceau for her chateau Charmont. Catherine built the galleries upon Diane’s bridge, and ruled France as regent from the building. Renaissance intrigues, not fairytales, brought this building to life.

Foundation Royaumont, a former abbey. Photo: Marianna Dudley.

Foundation Royaumont, a former abbey. Photo: Marianna Dudley.

I was in France following an AHRC-Labex Franco-British workshop, where Care for the Future project members were brought together with French Labex counterparts, to discover each other’s research and discuss possibilities for future collaboration. The 2-day workshop was held in a former abbey transformed into a cultural centre – the Royaumont Foundation – to the north of Paris, a stunning setting for the ‘Delving Back into the Past to Look into the Present’ workshop.

The workshop was the result of an initiative by Andrew Thompson, director of the Care for the Future programme for the AHRC in Britain, and Ghislaine Glasson Deschaumes, director of Les Passés dans le présent (the Laboratoire d’excellence based at the Université Paris Ouest Nanterre la Defense, France). The two funding schemes had such close themes – Care for the Future: Thinking Forward through the Past, and The Past in the Present: History, Patrimony, Memory – as well as an emphasis on working with external heritage partners, and supporting early career researchers, that Andrew and Ghislaine have taken the opportunity to forge collaborative links between the two. Future funding will allow members of the two schemes to connect and apply for funding for joint research projects.

Carry van Lieshout and I were there to represent ‘The Power and the Water’, describe our research and be alert for potential links with French researchers present. My paper, ‘Between natural and cultural heritage, and human and natural archive’, discussed the importance of placing environments and natures at the heart of our understandings of heritage – as they have been historically, for example in the conservation movement in the UK and the global national park movement. It suggested that the language of heritage acquires new meaning when situated in a public sphere with many and multiple ties to place and nature – heritage breeds, heirloom vegetables, and keystone species are just some of the vocabulary used to add value to things by invoking heritage both cultural and natural. I suggested that, as historians and heritage professionals, we should be alert to the natural archive as a source and site for history, in addition to the cultural archive, and continue to place importance on landscapes, animals, ecosystems, natural cycles – and the histories and cultures they inform – in our discussions of heritage. In her paper ‘River or Ruin? Connecting Histories with Publics’, Carry explored how different valuations and understandings of an intermittent river and its heritage are playing out in the Peak district, and suggested that to widen our understanding (and expectations) of heritage-in-place to accommodate both natural and human interventions might allow contestations between past, present and future use to move forward.

Splendour of the interior of interior of Chateau Chenonceau. Photo: Marianna Dudley.

Splendour of the interior of interior of Chateau Chenonceau. Photo: Marianna Dudley.

After an intense two days of workshopping, I took some time to see more of French heritage in situ. Thus, I ended up at Chateau Chenonceau on a bitterly cold January morning, fully absorbed in the Renaissance splendor of the house, from the kitchens down below to the roaring fires that brought life (and much-needed warmth) to bed chambers and sitting rooms. This was cultural heritage at its best.

But then, in the gallery exhibition, a quote from Marguerite Yourcenar stopped me in my tracks, and brought the natural heritage of the chateau, somewhat hidden beneath the weight of tapestries and brocades and copper pans, back to the fore:

Let’s look at it from a new perspective, leaving aside these very well-known figures, these silhouettes on the magic lantern of French history… let’s think about the countless generation of birds that have flocked around these walls, the skillful architecture of their nests, the royal genealogies of animals in the forests and their dens or their unadorned shelters, their hidden life, their almost always-tragic death, so often at the hands of man.

Take another step along the paths: let’s dream about the great race of trees, with different species taking over in succession, compared to whose age four or five hundred years means nothing.

Another step further on, far from any human concerns, here is the water in the river, water that is both older and newer than any other form, and which has for centuries washed the cast offs of history. Visiting old residences can lead us to see things in a rather unexpected way. (Sous bénéfice d’inventaire (1962)

Yourcenar, the French writer and first woman to be inducted into the Académie Française (in 1981), looked beyond the materiality of the chateau to connect its history with that of the surrounding lands and waters that supported it, and suffered for it.[1] Her words spoke to me as an encouragement for environmental historians to raise the profile of the natural archive, and as a reminder that we are far from the only ones to seek and value natural heritage alongside other manifestations of history. I look forward to the opportunities that the initiative between AHRC and Labex presents for us to connect with French scholars with similar convictions and research interests. Sincere thanks to Andrew, Ghislaine, and the AHRC/Labex staff for bringing us all together, and starting conversations that are sure to develop.

[1] ‘Becoming the Emperor: How Marguerite Yourcenar reinvented the past’, The New Yorker (February 14, 2005)

Sustainability and subsistence systems in a changing Sudan

Dr Philippa Ryan, Department of Conservation and Scientific Research, The British Museum, Principal Investigator

Philippa sampling a 3,100 year old hearth in a large villa.

Philippa sampling a 3,100 year old hearth in a large villa.

Professor Katherine Homewood, Department of Anthropology, UCL, Co-Investigator

Nubian agricultural practices are rapidly changing due to infrastructure development, technological and environmental changes. Our project explores how comparisons of present-day and ancient crop choices can inform on risk management within agricultural strategies of small-scale riparian Nile village settlements. Research is focused on present-day Ernetta island (620km north of Khartoum) and nearby 2nd millennium BC Amara West, which was also located on an island during its occupation. Today, as in the past, islands are important due to their agricultural potential. PR blog - amara_west_map_624Compared to further north in Egypt, there are fewer areas of wide floodplain suitable to traditional floodplain agriculture in the Middle Nile Valley.

We have been interviewing Nubian farmers to investigate the characteristics of customary agriculture and in what ways these have been impacted by new farming methods, population movements, dam and road-building – as well as changing patterns of imports and trade. Interviews were undertaken in February and March of this year, and have so far focused on the car- and electricity-free island Ernetta. Several farmers we met were over 80 years old and we have begun to outline several phases of change in crops grown over the last century. Key agents of change have included the introduction of new crops, the shift in irrigation techniques from the water wheel to water pumps (1950s-1970s) and the impact of bird attacks on certain crops.

Removing crop weeds from wheat, Ernetta

Removing crop weeds from wheat, Ernetta

We have been finding out about customary harvesting, threshing, storage and food preparation practices as well as about land-use and irrigation. We discussed what animals people keep, how this has changed and foddering/grazing practices. Despite the changes, some practices have remained relatively traditional till very recently. For instance, harvesting is still done by hand, and a threshing machine was only introduced to the island in the mid-2000s. There seems to be shifts in farming approaches amongst the older and younger generations of farmers, with a potential loss in knowledge about how particular crops have been used in the past. We are examining our evidence for temporal changes alongside ethnographic and historical sources. For comparative purposes, we are also carrying out interviews in nearby river-bank farms, as well as in other locations in northern Sudan.

The ancient town of Amara West was also originally situated on an island like Ernetta. Geomorphological evidence suggests a river channel north of the site drying during the site occupation, which would have exposed the settlement and agricultural fields to encroaching sands. (Find the complete report here.) The town has well-preserved architectural phases, together with associated plant remains, spanning this timeframe. (For further information, click here.)

Ful (broad bean) fields after harvest, Ernetta island
Ful (broad bean) fields after harvest, Ernetta island

Charred seeds are providing information about a wide range of taxa, whilst phytoliths (opaline silica casts of plant cells) preserve information about plant parts that rarely survive charring. We are studying the plant remains to investigate whether or not the increased localised aridity impacted agricultural and plant-use strategies. Little is published or known about agricultural practices prior to the 1st Millennium BC, and the evidence from Amara West is providing new information about crops grown for the 2nd millennium BC.

The subsistence information from the Amara West and the farmer interviews will be situated within a long temporal review of crop choices in the region. Crop diversification is one way of managing agricultural risk given that using a number of cereals and pulses with different growing tolerances (such as to heat or water stress) helps to buffer against crop failure. This includes reviewing archaeobotanical literature for ancient plant use as well as twentieth Century sources to better understand more recent changes. Combining the ethnographic and archaeological record aims to establish firstly which of today’s crops have a particularly long established history in the region, and secondly whether some of these are being grown less in recent decades.

Animal enclosure, Ernetta island

Animal enclosure, Ernetta island

For instance, hulled barley is found in abundant quantities at Amara West and was grown as a food cereal until the mid-twentieth century but is now grown mostly by older farmers, and only for animal fodder or for making a drink thought to have medicinal properties. This study aims to create a long-term perspective of adaptive solutions and how these are relevant to the future, and aims to record and promote local knowledge of sustainable natural resource exploitation.

Research and fieldwork at Amara West is made possible with the permission of the National Corporation of Antiquities & Museums (Sudan).

Project website

http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/research_projects/all_current_projects/sudan/amara_west_research_project/sustainability_and_subsistence.aspx

Wheat fields, Ernetta

Wheat fields, Ernetta