Green Britain: Nationhood and the Environment, 1500-1750

Call for papers for a one-day interdisciplinary symposium run by the Birmingham Centre for Reformation and Early Modern Studies (CREMS) to be held at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon on 25 June 2016.

During the early modern period, national identity was increasingly defined by the dynamic between people and the environment they populated. While many still longed for the pastoral ideal of Britain as the ‘Eden of Europe’, the looming threat of pollution, natural disaster, resource depletion, and urbanisation beset the thoughts of contemporary writers, theologians, and politicians.

Though it had been long held that the environment had an observable influence on the fortunes of a nation and the character of its citizens, the inhabitants of early modern Britain now became gradually conscious of their impact on the natural world. Environmental issues of increasing variety and scale plagued early modern Britain as society struggled to sustain a rapidly expanding population.

From changes in agricultural land use and poor forestry management, to the increasing reliance on the smog-inducing ‘sea-coal’ for fuel, many feared adverse effects on the minds, bodies, and souls of British citizens. Against this backdrop of environmental degradation, Britons were also forced to contend with the harshest decades of the so-called ‘Little Ice Age’ and a series of extreme weather events that were habitually seen as acts of divine retribution against the Lord’s elect nation. Further to this, new scientific developments in meteorology and geography, and the rise of Baconian methodology, increasingly affected the contemporary theory and practice of environmental governmentality. Differences in race, ethnicity, and national character were explained according to climate and colonies judged on their suitability to the British complexion, with climatological observations acting as an incentive for colonial exploitation.

Beyond vague collocations of Merry England’s ‘green and pleasant lands’, ‘Green Britain’ therefore aims to explore the complex relationship between national identity and the environment in a period of tumultuous ecological change. What conclusions can we derive from the study of early modern environmental issues, and how can we apply these to the complex idea of the early modern identity? To what extent is nationhood defined by the dynamic that exists between people, space, and place? And furthermore, is it possible to define an early modern attitude toward green issues? To this end, we invite proposals for both panels and papers based on the themes of nationhood and/or early modern ‘green’ issues for our one-day interdisciplinary symposium on 25 June 2016.

Topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • Travel writing
  • Emerging scientific discourses
  • Climate theory
  • Pollution
  • Space and place
  • Cartography and map-making
  • Seascapes and maritime history
  • Town and country
  • Cultivation and Agriculture
  • Geography and Meteorology
  • Astrology and Cosmology
  • Enclosure and land ownership
  • Colonialism and Empire
  • Providence and providential disaster
  • Natural philosophy
  • Ecological issues
  • Diseases and cures
  • Vegetarianism
  • Animals and animal rights

The abstract deadline both for papers and for panel suggestions is 31 March 2016.

Please email abstracts of no more than 250 words for papers of 15-20 minutes in length to Tayler Meredith and Elizabeth Cook at greenbritain2016@gmail.com