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The Power and the Water. Connecting Pasts and Futures

Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) project on British environmental history run by Dr Paul Warde

Power and Water

The Power and the Water: Connecting Pasts with Futures examines the nature of environmental connectivities since industrialization and how their legacies challenge us in the early 21st century. Our understanding of environmental connectivity relates to how infrastructure and its environmental impacts generate both new distances and fresh bonds between places, peoples, institutions and cultures. The notion of environmental connectivity also engages with how the construction and sustainment of human communities create landscapes that can facilitate or interrupt the interactions of species and the resilience of socio-cultural and natural worlds.

We also consider shared negative experiences that affect community resilience, social learning and environmental policy response. We will examine how notions of the ‘environmental’ and ‘natural’ categorize spaces and demarcate what is worthy of protection, privileging certain ideas of what is valued in nature and how ecological and socio-cultural connections work. In particular, we will explore the transformative role of technology across a range of liquid and energy environments – from the manipulation of the River Tyne and proposed harnessing of the Severn Estuary’s powerful tides to the drainage of Peak District mines and massive electricity delivery systems such as pylons.

The University of Cambridge is home to the ‘energy’ strand of the work, including the study of energy infrastructure in the landscape of south-west England by post-doctoral research Jill Payne, and a study of the Environmental History of the UK National Grid by Katherine Button.


This project is a collaboration between the Universities of Bristol, East Anglia and Nottingham. It is being pursued under the ‘Care for the Future: Thinking Forward through the Past’ Theme – one of four current AHRC themes that provide a funding focus for emerging areas of interest to arts and humanities researchers. Within Care for the Future, the project has been designed to respond to a highlight call on ‘Environmental Change and Sustainability’.


The project website can be found at