Centre for World Environmental History

International Seminar on History of Waters in South Asia

International Seminar on History of Waters in South Asia :
Climate, Ecology, De-forestation, Agriculture, Politics and the Management of Nature

March 3-4, 2006

K.P. Basu Memorial Hall, Department of History, Jadavpur University

in collaboration with MAKAIAS, Kolkata

The Department of History, Jadavpur University, proposes to organise an International Seminar on 'History of Waters in South Asia : Climate, Ecology, Deforestation, Agriculture and the Management of Nature' in early March 2006. This two-day international seminar aims to bring together approximately 30 leading scholars sharing a common interest in the environmental history to deliberate on the subject. In keeping with the thrust area of the research programme of the Department under the UGC-SAP, the present seminar will make an attempt to address the broad areas of environmental concern in human societies across the globe and the complex patterns of their interaction with the nature by focusing on the history of waters.

The importance of the history of waters has been already acknowledged by the leading environmental historians of the world. The question of water resources occupies a central place in the scientific debate relating to conservation and the management of nature. What we know of as environmentalism began with a series of legislations in British India. Imperial foresters warned of impending catastrophe and global climate change if deforestation continued. This particular concern later reverberated through Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and then the United States. Forest administrators in India were the first to link forest cover to climate. As early as the 1850s it was acknowledged by the British forest officials that the existence or non-existence of large well-wooded areas in a country affects its climate in a very marked degree. Thus precipitation depended upon wooded areas as well as the evaporation of water from the oceans of the world. Richard Grove has argued that it was desiccationism (shrinking water resources, soil erosion and productivity) that promoted the idea of forest conservancy in the colonies. Desiccationism draws on the connection between deforestation and drought. As early as 1864, George Perkins Marsh (Man and Nature ), one of the earliest American environmentalists, singled out the urgent need of protecting the Adirondack mountains, which contained the headwaters of several New York's most important rivers, including the Hudson.

There is little disagreement among the scholars engaged in Environmental History that water is central to the perceived 'environmental crisis' in today's world. Awareness of this importance of water has sparked off a series of relevant questions relating to water and climate. Some of these questions are fundamental to the core sub-discipline of Environmental History. Environmental History needs to be engaged with scientists to develop a new paradigm for the future. The proposed International Seminar on the History of Waters is the first of its kind and it will address some of the fundamental questions most relevant to the very discipline of Environmental History.

Abstracts of papers to be presented at the seminar must relate to the panel themes listed below. The papers may kindly be sent to my email address before the deadline of January 7, 2005. Those participants who would like to receive acceptance letters for applying to funding agencies must send their abstracts with address details as soon as possible and advise me about the need of such letters. Only high quality papers presented at the seminar will be accepted for publication in an edited volume. The delegates from outside are requested to send me their flight details well in advance for airport pick ups.

I extend to you a warm invitation to attend this prestigious seminar. The Department during the sessions in Kolkata will provide all necessary local hospitality to the delegates. However, no travel grants will be offered to the participants.

Sessions will include (this is subject to change):

Inaugural Session, the Keynote Address

Does History of Waters Really Matter?

Development of Disciplines and Institutions with concerns for water:
Botany, Zoology, Geology, Marine Biology, Oceanography Geological Survey of India, Forest Research Institute, Zoological Survey of India, Botanical Survey of India, Horticultural Society of India, Meteorological Survey of India

Management of nature: evolving role of state and society through different periods of history

  • Water and Climate, Forestry, conservation, land-use, water resources and waterways, rivers, dams, the politics of water
  • Water: Indigenous Knowledge - Colonial Knowledge
  • Disease, sanitation and ecology
  • Environment and water oriented social movements - case-studies of tribal and other movements
  • Water and development in modern South Asia
  • History of natural calamities -flood, rainfall, cyclone, tsunami draught etc and other environmental disasters

Water: A Comparative Study of Asia and the Wider World

For further information and registration please contact:

Professor Ranjan Chakrabarti
Department of History
Jadavpur University
Kolkata 700032 (India)

Telefax 91-33-24146962 (O)
91-33-24146136 (O)


The University

Jadavpur University has been accredited the Five Star (the highest) status by the University Grants Commission. It is one of the top five universities in India with an impressive track record since 1955. The university has been also identified as a potential centre of excellence by the University Grants Commission. It is located in Kolkata, the capital of the state of West Bengal. Kolkata is well connected by both railroad and air. The Netaji Subhas Chandra International Airport in Kolkata is well connected with all the major cities of Asia, Europe and the United States. The participants, in most cases, will be accommodated in the University Guest House.