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Unearthing the secret history of militarized landscapes

Press release issued: 3 June 2010

Tanks, bombs and soldiers may be the immediate occupants of the vast swathes of militarized territories across the world, but do they have other functions and meanings? A new book that takes an unprecedented look at these places holds some unexpected answers.

‘Militarized Landscapes: From Gettysburg to Salisbury Plain’, is one of the major outputs of a three-year project that explores these often hidden, dangerous and controversial sites. Moving beyond the narrow definition of militarized landscapes as theatres of war, it focuses on the rural environments that have been reshaped by preparation for warfare.

Edited by a team from the University of Bristol’s Department of History, the book includes contributions from historians, geographers, a landscape architect and a clinical psychologist. Chapters range from contemporary flashpoints such as the Korean De-militarized Zone (DMZ) to former nuclear testing sites in the deserts of the American West, and from the memorial landscape of the celebrated US Civil War battlefield site of Gettysburg to the UK Ministry of Defence’s training grounds on Salisbury Plain, the Dorset coast and the Welsh mountains. Other places covered include Norway and the occupied Palestinian territories.

One of the book’s most surprising findings is that certain militarized sites and training grounds have become unexpected and unintentional wildlife refuges, and are now managed for environmental as well as military objectives.

As lead editor Dr Chris Pearson explains: “Army training leads to pollution, bomb craters, and other forms of environmental damage. But military ownership of certain sites, such as Salisbury Plain, has kept intensive agriculture as well as tourism and urbanization at bay and encouraged the preservation of ecologically outstanding habitats.

“This is a controversial topic because critics claim, with some justification, that military activity is incompatible with good stewardship of the land. In actual fact, militarized landscapes are paradoxical, multi-layered places and military environmentalism is a complex and ambiguous topic, which deserves far greater and more dispassionate attention that it currently receives.”

“Military establishments have added defence of nature to defence of nation,” adds Professor Peter Coates, one of the co-editors.

The book also examines how political activists, displaced civilians, and environmentalists have challenged the military mobilization of landscapes, villages, and other sites rich in local history, cultural meaning, and natural biodiversity.

It was originally inspired by an international conference held at the University of Bristol in September 2008, as part of the three-year project ‘Militarized Landscapes in Twentieth Century Britain, France and the United States,’ funded by the Landscape and Environment programme of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

For further information, contact either the project’s principal investigator, Professor Peter Coates,, or lead editor, Dr Chris Pearson,

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