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Monday 1 March (2pm)
Water under the feet: new perspectives on watery landscapes
Dr Susan Kilby (University of Nottingham), ‘Living with water in the medieval rural Midlands’
Place-name evidence suggests that medieval vocabulary was applied to landscape features with extraordinary precision. Later medieval field-names therefore provide a useful pen-portrait of the landscape as it was visualised by those who named it, offering us a means of assessing the importance to medieval husbandmen of particular landscape elements. South-east Staffordshire is drained by several major watercourses, including the rivers Trent, Tame, Sow and Blithe and so it should come as no surprise to find that watery names proliferate within the corpus of field-names and minor landscape names of the area. Taking field-names as our starting point, this paper examines the evidence for their importance as an integral part of the field management strategies of the periodically water-logged environment of several rural Staffordshire settlements.
Dr Susan Kilby is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Name-Studies at the University of Nottingham, and an Honorary Fellow at the Centre for English Local History at the University of Leicester. She is principally interested in the complexity of peasants’ relationships with the landscape in the later medieval period.
Professor Greg Bankoff (University of Hull), ‘Not only a matter of time but of timing: Internal Drainage Boards and water level management in the River Hull Valley’.
This paper applies a path-dependency approach to better understand the potentialities and limitations of non-main rivers in England. Using the River Hull Valley of the East Riding as an example, the study explores the underlying historical dynamics at work throughout the greater internal drainage board (IDB) network in terms of infrastructural and institutional lock-in that makes any substantial alteration to the system prohibitively difficult and expensive to realise. Over the centuries, the accreted nature of the decisions made by these local water boards, influenced as much by what had already been done as by the demands of present exigencies, has shaped both the form and practice of the specific lowland landscape that characterizes certain parts of England. Adopting a methodology that combines archival research and oral history with interviews, focus group discussions, and transects of the local landscape in the company of knowledgeable resource persons, the research shows how the infrastructural lock-in of non-main local drainage systems only serves to reinforce the institutional lock-in – and vice versa. The paper concludes by returning to the broader question of the successive role IDBs have played in the making of the English Lowlands and whether, in a time of increasing climatic uncertainty, they represent more an obstacle to change than an agency of transformation.
Greg Bankoff is Professor of Environmental History, University of Hull.

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