Transforming Landscape, Transforming Culture: Representations of the Humber Estuary

Friday, July 14, 2017
Gilbert Scott Building - Room 132 (University of Glasgow)
Eveline Renée de Smalen , Comparative Literature, Rachel Carson Center, LMU Munich
The cities on the English Humber Estuary have a rich fishing tradition that, until some decades ago, employed a significant portion of the city's population. If it did not make its inhabitants rich, it gave them a comfortable means of existence. However, for a number of reasons, such as the Cod Wars of the mid-twentieth century and fishing quota, the trawler industry has now almost completely left the Humber Estuary, leaving the city poor and the social cohesion, that used to be very strong, largely depleted. Unsurprisingly, during the referendum in June 2016, Hull voted overwhelmingly in favour of Brexit.

Economic and social welfare went hand in hand with ecological degradation. While much of the ecology of the Humber Estuary was sacrificed to build ever more docks in the ever expanding harbour, ecological loss is now no longer compensated for by economic benefits. This paper first explores the question of how ecology under threat is presented in literary works set in and around the Humber Estuary, and how ecological issues are presented in relation with social matters. By comparing the Humber Estuary's historical development and its ecological impacts with its literary representations, I aim to describe where imagination takes ecological development and government policy, seeing where they align and where tensions arise. In doing so, I will show how, through processes of ecological loss and economical wealth, a new conception of nature can arise in places where humans and non-humans work together to create new places of hope and beauty.