Rewriting Histories and Geographies of the Coast – Marine Coastal Cultures

by Cormac Walsh

In ‘The Frayed Atlantic Edge’ (William Collins, July 2019) historian and skilled sea-kayaker David Gange recounts his journey alongside the Atlantic coasts of Britain and Eire, from Shetland to the Channel. In travelling by kayak, Gange immersed himself within the rhythms of the ocean and coast and sought to realize new views on the historical past and geographies of Britain and Eire, from the attitude of the ocean. Drawing on archival and literary sources, he weaves collectively an account of those Atlantic coasts which challenges head-on dominant narratives of the peripherality and marginality of coastal and island locations. He begins with the conviction that British and Irish histories ‘are normally written inside out’, based mostly on the false premise that the ‘land-bound geographies’ of at this time have existed endlessly (p. ix).


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On this, he follows writers equivalent to Barry Cunliffe, Michael Pye, Katie Ritson and others who’ve sought to refocus consideration on the historic centrality of oceanic and maritime worlds. Certainly, compared to the above the authors, his work maybe stands out in its specific name for brand new geographical in addition to historic views. Gange requires a radical rewriting of British and Irish (and presumably European) histories, arguing that taken-for-granted narratives of historic progress are ‘ethically unsuited to at this time’s world’, triumphalising occasions which have created the issues of the current (p. 340). Particularly, he views the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as a time of fast change the place concerted efforts within the identify of ‘modernisation’ led to the undermining of the North Atlantic worlds of earlier centuries. From this attitude, in any other case invisible connections between the suppression and clearing of the Highlands, the good famine in Eire, the suppression of the Scottish Gaelic, Irish and Welsh languages and the decline in small-scale fisheries develop into clear.British historical past, he contends, has not simply been landlocked and urban-focussed however nearly solely centred on London to the neglect of different geographies and narratives. The Scottish area of Argyll, for instance, is reinterpreted as a bridge between the Gaelic lands of Eire and Scotland, a area the place at this time youngsters dwelling on distant islands hitch lifts with fishing boats to celebration in Donegal and Belfast. The modern remoteness of Skellig Michael is positioned throughout the perspective of a flourishing early Christian Atlantic tradition, centred on Eire’s western seaboard.

The e book masterfully brings native, located views and embodied evocations of place along with consideration to the immensity and relationality of previous and (to a lesser extent) current Atlantic geographies. He paperwork the richness of maritime and coastal wildlife and challenges human-centred views on land and the ocean and the company of historic course of. On this, he echoes a lot of latest scholarship within the environmental humanities with its concentrate on decentring human narratives. Though he set out anticipating what he noticed as his naïve romanticism to be displaced via his immersive engagement with the wild ferocity of the Atlantic coasts, this displacement doesn’t happen and he maintains his sense of surprise and curiosity in his exploration of the range of each nature and tradition on the coast. For Gange, writing historical past entails the ‘imaginative exploration of unrealised previous potentials’ (p. 346). He argues that the coastal locations marginalised by the dominant cultures of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are stuffed with such potentials, locations the place different, locally-embedded practices of dwelling from the land, the coast and the ocean are nonetheless doable. Travelling by kayak, he adopts the most typical mode of transport of previous coastal communities who relied on small boats for fishing, journey and transportation of products, tracing vernacular geographies of the coast and sea which for essentially the most half have been erased by the shift to highway and rail in fashionable instances. On this sense, he follows within the custom of Tim Ingold and others who’ve written of the necessity to stroll landscapes to know them. Journeying by kayak, and arriving onshore moist and bedraggled, considerably additionally offered a gap for conversations with coastal residents and islanders which can not have taken place had he arrived by extra standard means.

Within the preface to the e book, Gange writes the chapters had been written sequentially ‘on the go’, so the writer’s studying course of parallels the reader’s expertise in delving deeper into the importance of coastal locations. He displays that the stability steadily ‘shift in direction of ‘historic analysis, literary criticism and argument’ (p. x). Definitely, the later chapters rely closely on literary criticism of their explorations of the historic geographies of the Welsh and Cornish coasts. This reader had the impression, nevertheless, that archival work performed a bigger function within the early sections of the journey (Shetlands and Orkney particularly) than was the case in later chapters. Every chapter is, of necessity, fairly selective, when it comes to the locations and themes addressed and the reader consistently has the impression that much more might be stated if it weren’t for the sensible necessity to remain inside manageable phrase counts. Certainly, whereas the challenge of bringing collectively the Atlantic geographies of Britain and Eire inside one quantity, is commendable, a sure rigidity stays between the evocation of place specificity and native, historic narratives and the necessity to skim over comparatively massive sections of coast in lesser element to stop the challenge changing into unwieldy. In opposition to this background, the inclusion of the Welsh coast, doesn’t fairly persuade. The e book, nevertheless, most significantly, mounts a considerable problem to established historic narratives and geographical imaginations and can certainly present some extent of departure for additional interdisciplinary explorations of histories and geographies of coastal change.

Dr. David Gange is Senior Lecturer in Fashionable Historical past on the College of Birmingham. Further materials from the Frayed Atlantic Edge challenge together with in depth picture galleries is accessible right here.

Dr. Cormac Walsh is a geographer on the College of Hamburg and eager kayak paddler in his spare time.

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