Institute for Environmental History
SunflowersRachel Carson, author of 'Silent Spring'Illustration from Thomas Burnet's 'Sacred Theory of the Earth' (1684)





In 1999, a substantial grant from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC) enabled the Institute to strengthen its research culture by joining forces with the University of Stirling to create the Centre for Environmental History and Policy (CEHP). Together, they pursued research in woodland history, coastal archaeology, the history of pollution, land use and cultural landscapes, nature conservation and countryside recreation, and species history.

In addition, they attracted further funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Forestry Commision, Historic Scotland, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Carnegie Trust, and the Leverhulme Trust. For a number of years, the Centre has been active in coastal archaeology through the asupices of SCAPE (Scottish Coastal Archaeology and the Problem of Erosion). Archaeologist Tom Dawson has been the moving force behind this work. The Shorewatch project operates under Tom's management. He encourages local volunteers to survey and carry out limited excavation work on coastal archaeological sites before erosion or accretion destroys or buries them. In 2004, the importance of the work of Shorewatch was recognized when the project was honoured with the highest of the British Archaeological awards, the Silver Trowel.

With the three-year SHEFC grant drawing to a successful completion in 2001, Dr. JFM Clark and his colleague at the University of Stirling, Dr Fiona Watson, submitted a major research bid to the Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB). Wishing to take the CEHP forward as a leader in the academic sub-discipline of environmental history in Britain, they proposed to make the Centre a specialist in the history of 'waste'. Encompassing waste and wastelands, this agenda seemed broad enough to engage with the many facets of the developing historiography of environment, and specialized enough to engage with specific, contemporary policy concerns. This bid was successful, and in October 2002 the newly designated AHRB Research Centre for Environmental History was launched as part of a four-year collaborative enterprise. It entailed two major research strands: Stirling focused principally on wastelands (disused or uncultivated land); and St Andrews investigated the history of waste management and the social and cultural representations of waste. This work was ably assisted by Dr Timothy Cooper, a political historian, Dr Claire Jack, a gender historian, Dr Mark Riley, a historical geographer, and Dr John Scanlan, a cultural philosopher.

In addition to individual research projects, the Institute actively promotes guest lectures, seminars, and conferences. In September 2001, the Institute/Centre was honoured to host the first international conference of the European Society for Environmental History at St Andrews.

A copyright institution until the early nineteenth century, the University of St Andrews is rich in printed books and archival materials relevant to natural sciences in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and also possesses digitized collections of landscape photographs. Additional environmental and cartographic materials are held nearby at the University of Dundee and in Edinburgh.

In 2011, Dr Aileen Fyfe will join the Institute as a permanent staff member within the School of History. Dr Fyfe is a leading specialist on the history of science, technology, religion and the book trade in nineteenth-century Britain. The Institute is currently exploring collaborative links with the newly created Centre for the History and Philosophy of Science, Technology, and Medicine, University of Aberdeen.


"a group that has seized the initiative in advancing the cause of environmental history in the UK"

BBC History Magazine, July 2001

Related Links

Details about the Scottish Coastal Archaeological and Paleoecological Trust(SCAPE), which operates out of the Institute, and Tom Dawson's related Shorewatch public archaeology project.