Centre for World Environmental History

Botany, Climate and Empire Workshop

May 19th 2011, 10 a.m.‐4 p.m.
(By invitation only)

Botany, Climate and Empire workshop report [PDF 199.43KB]

Botany, Climate and Empire workshop programme [PDF 11.87KB]

Botany, Climate and Empire poster [PDF 177.85KB]

The International Atmospheric Circulation Reconstructions over the Earth (ACRE) Initiative [PDF 625.64KB] 
Met Office presentation

The Centre for World Environmental History at the University of Sussex, in collaboration with the Library and Archives of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, is developing a major research project on the records of natural history and in particular on the records of imperial botany. This project will form part of the Global Transformations research theme at the university and responds to recent initiatives by the AHRC, particularly the support for research into South Asian Records of Climate Change.

The heart of the Centre’s project will focus on “Kew andIndia”. The project will address a series of questions on the specific contribution ofKewin shaping the categories of natural knowledge and the capacity of communities to know and engage with the environment from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries.  The research agenda is inspired by the work of Richard Grove. Grove’s hypothesis was that the information-gathering institutions of modern forms of empire captured and made visible global patterns of environmental change. He also argued that the politics of empire had significant environmental consequences. Empires not only recorded the data of natural history, the institutions of empire shaped the natural world. The goal of our research will be to sponsor research that analyses and explains this interaction of human societies with their environments.

The archive of imperial natural history is extraordinarily diverse. It ranges from landscape features, including remains of imperial institutions, through collections of natural objects, such as herbaria, and immense quantities of paper records. The archive offers a treasure trove of observations, such as climate and weather data, that are of immediate use to a variety of disciplines. This aspect of the archive opens up exciting avenues for collaborative work for historians. It is an immensely intellectually challenging archive however. To use it properly historians must be aware of the conditions of its production. The cross-cultural nature of so much of the archive demands particular attention. It is also a technically challenging archive. The techniques through which the objects in economic botany collections, land-use patterns and correspondence networks can be made to speak to one another are only slowly emerging. As well as developing techniques of analysis scholars have to address the need to make these kinds of records as publically accessible as possible. This is a particularly important feature of a project that is international by its very nature.

The Centre will hold a workshop to discuss the problems and possibilities of this research in May 2011. We have tentatively timetabled our discussion for May 19th. The workshop will have a two-part structure. In our morning session we will discuss and attempt to identify the research questions that should animate our work. In the following session we will explore how research could be designed to meet those goals.Sussex has one of the most important groups of scholars working in this important emerging field, including Vinita Damodaran, Saul Dubow, Jim Endersby and Alan Lester. We look forward to a stimulating meeting and very much hope that you can join us.

Vinita Damodaran
Director, Centre for World Environmental History,
University of Sussex

James Livesey
Head of Department, Department of History,
University of Sussex