Project Description

Militarized Landscapes in Twentieth-Century Britain, France and the United States

Project start date: 1 June 2007

Duration: 3 years (until 31 May 2010)

The black smoke billowing from burning oil wells during the Gulf War of 1990-91 directed media and public attention towards war’s environmental impact. Yet even before the first bomb is dropped, preparation for warfare materially and imaginatively reshapes landscapes and environments. Yet this form of military mobilization remains under-researched. This project seeks to rectify this neglect through a comparative analysis of the emergence, management and meaning of militarized landscapes. In particular, it will explore the role of military lands as reservoirs of biodiversity often superior in ‘green’ value to surrounding non-militarized landscapes subject to intensive agricultural practices and other customary forms of human encroachment. How and why have military authorities embraced nature conservation policies? The status of defence estates as landscapes emptied of human residents and civilian activities is another central ingredient of our study. We will also consider the challenges to militarized landscapes from those seeking access and a share of decision making and control. Of special interest here is the interplay between  the imperatives of  defending the nation and defending nature. The focus on British, French and American histories will bring out the common ground and divergences between national military cultures and the local, national and continental specificity of their expression and impact on the landscape, providing a vital historical perspective on highly topical questions of military power and environmental responsibility.

A Project Student (Marianna Dudley) is pursuing a doctoral thesis on the ‘greening’ of  Britain’s Ministry of Defence. A post-doctoral Project Researcher (Dr Chris Pearson) is exploring the militarized landscapes of post-1945 France. The Principal Investigator (Professor Peter Coates) is examining the conversion of military sites in Colorado into wildlife refuges within the wider theme of militarized landscapes as (surprisingly) hospitable wildlife habitat. The Co-Investigator (Dr Tim Cole) is looking at the consequences of landscape militarization for human communities and the relationship between social and environmental histories through case studies of Mynydd Epynt (Brecon), Imber (Wiltshire) and Tyneham (Dorset). An international conference will be held in September 2008. Two external Project Partners will assist our investigations. The UK Defence Estates’ Environmental Support Team (located at Westdown Camp, Tilshead, Wiltshire) will facilitate the work of the Project Student and assist with site visits. Project researchers will also collaborate with Icon Films, a Bristol-based independent film company specializing in history and natural history documentaries.