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The Northern Bridge DTP Environmental Humanities Residential 2018, Ardtara

Northern Bridge students were able to enjoy the inaugural Environmental Humanities residential at the Ardtara hotel, Northern Ireland this week – despite the weather!

The programme was an intellectual treat for all participants. The theme tackled democracy’s ultimate problem: the environment, and inspired wide-ranging discussions around policy, governance, expertise, activism and creative responses. None of these were new questions of course, and our first trip out was to the Giant’s Causeway, to think about the 1811 poem of the same name, set firmly in the Romantic tradition and the origins of natural science and geology.

The programme was hugely enriched by the contributions of Professor Adam Sowards, a leading authority in the environmental history of the USA, who came over from University of Idaho to give three presentations on the history of the conservation movement, public lands and forestry. Adam had the group enthralled with his discussions of the cultural, economic and political constructs around land in America, and the contested nature of access, ownership and use of land from the revolutionary period into the present. The group were fascinated to understand the wider global context and land and environment.

Robert Heslip from Belfast City Council gave a thought-provoking presentation on the management of environment and heritage, with a special emphasis on policy-making, using the discovery and history of the Broighter gold hoard as his case study. He traced the policy distance between what happens to such finds in the UK and Ireland, and he reminded the group of the difference between knowledge and wisdom, and the enduring – if challenged – role of expertise. Kelley Sowards picked up on the same theme but in a very different context: that is environmental activism in the 1990s. Kelley talked about her experiences as a participant in the movement trying to prevent the intensive logging of forests in the American West and how the utilisation of the media, ‘citizen science’ and the legal and political context helped save the forest.

Professor Keith Lilley, a leading historical geographer and expert on historical mapping and the Ordnance Survey gave the group a presentation on the history of the OS in Ireland and then led the group on a five-mile coastal walk, accompanied by a series of historical maps of the route, ending at the giant’s causeway. Keith took the group into the landscape and helped us read it in a different way.

Dr Annie Tindley gave two presentations, looking firstly at the rewilding debate in Scotland – a hugely contentious issue – and the second bringing in a longer chronological scale to take in how historical interpretation has shaped modern land reform in the country.

The group were treated at the end of the programme to a session with Anthony Quinn, a creative writing Northern Bridge PhD student and distinguished crime fiction author, who discussed with the group the role landscape and weather played in his work. He made a few extra book sales from his inspiring session too.

The group were given a wonderfully warm welcome at Ardtara and got out into the landscape. It was an inspiring, creative and stimulating programme – the first of more to come!

Last modified: Fri, 17 Aug 2018 08:46:07 BST