University of Nottingham

Anticipatory histories of landscape and wildlife

Project outline

'Anticipatory histories of landscape and wildlife' aimed to explore how different ways of researching and writing about the past shape our understandings of contemporary environments, and how we envision what might happen to them in the future. In particular, the network investigated the ways in which experimental accounts of past environmental change can help prepare us for uncertain futures, and become enrolled in processes of mitigation and adaptation. We refer to this as an experiment in anticipatory history.

Damage to Mullion Harbour's southern breakwater, 1946. Photo: National Trust
Damage to Mullion Harbour's southern breakwater, 1946. Photo: National Trust


This network achieved its aims by working through two case-studies: landscape and wildlife history, in the context of the county of Cornwall.

Workshop 1: Landscape

Location: Cotehele, Tamar Valley (National Trust)
Date: 10th September 2010

The first workshop Landscape, involved a group of twelve network members beginning the network conversation around the theme of anticipatory history. This first workshop was oriented to the question of landscape, with a particular focus on the potential for alternative framings of landscape history in sites identified to be at risk of significant environmental change. The workshop of National Trust practitioners and cross-disciplinary academics created a unique space for collaboration and conversation, with a lively exchange that wove together theory and practice, representation and interpretation, experimentation and application.


Workshop 2: Wildlife

Location: Tremough House, University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus
Date: 16th December 2011 

The second of the network's workshops on Wildlife gathered together eighteen delegates. The workshop was organised around the theme of anticipatory histories of wildlife, and attendees came from a diverse range of backgrounds including academia, environmental and conservation organisations, local government and the media. The mix of backgrounds and interests generated lively discussion, and identified pathways towards building fertile new links between academic research, community/third-sector participation and policymaking at the local and national level.


Workshop 3

Location: Tremough House, University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus
Date: 27th April 2011

The final workshop brought together participants from both previous workshops to synthesise ideas and explore how alternative histories may be applied in the management, interpretation and adaptation activities at specific sites.


Network symposium

Location: University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus
Date: 28th April 2011
This open symposium considered how anticipatory histories of environmental change could inform perspectives from science, policy, community engagement and the arts. Part of the event was devoted to exploring a series of case studies and scenarios with our project partner, the National Trust. The free event was open to everyone - with participation welcomed from academics and postgraduates interested in the histories, cultures and politics of environmental change; people responsible for managing environmental change on the ground in various ways; as well as artists and others engaged with environmental change and cultural adaptation in their work.


The principal network output is a glossary of terms that relate in some way to anticipatory history, produced in collaboration with book designer Colin Sackett. All of the core network participants – from artists to scientists – were invited to suggest terms that should be included and then asked them to take ownership of terms and to produce entries for them. The idea has not been to communicate scientific or policy ideas but to produce entries that provoke readers to problematize or reflect critically on received ways of thinking about environmental change and its pasts and futures.

One of the achievements of the network was the demonstration to some of the National Trust's key policy-makers the efficacy of the idea of anticipatory history – the idea that the past can be used in the construction of narratives of change that help to re-vision possible futures in place. The case study of Mullion Harbour was used to show how the idea of an immutable history can be challenged so as to support the argument that the harbour wall should be allowed to degrade. Trust staff presented other examples of anticipatory history in practice – from a controversial moorland management scheme in West Penwith to art installations at Birling Gap and Orford Ness. National Trust have been provided with large numbers of copies of the network book so that they can be spread widely through the organisation, there is good evidence that key managers are already promoting anticipatory thinking. As evidence of this Caitlin DeSilvey and Simon Naylor are working with National Trust to put together a knowledge exchange project where anticipatory history thinking will be introduced to the Trust’s managers.

Simon Naylor has also produced a documentary film about Stella Maris Turk who has devoted her life to the study of Cornwall's natural history inspired by the network discussions. The film was produced by Shaun Pimlott (ROBOT i productions).  

Stella Turk: The Torrey Canyon Oil Spill from Shaun Pimlott on Vimeo.

Flood at Cotehele, Tamar Valley, September 2010. Photo: Simon Naylor.


Perennial Centaury (Centaurium scilloides), a re-found species, Cornwall 2010. Photo: Ian Bennalick)


Award details

Duration: 2010-2011 (12 months)

Principal Investigator:
Dr Simon Naylor

Dr Caitlin DeSilvey

Higher Education Institution: 
Department of Life and Environmental Sciences (Geography), University of Exeter (Cornwall Campus)


DeSilvey, C., Naylor, S., and Sackett, C. (Eds). (2011). Anticipatory History. Uniform Books. More details.

Documentary Film:
Naylor, S. and Pimlott, S. (2011). Stella Turk - A Life in Natural History.

Network partner 

    National Trust logo 

    Related links


                      Landscape and Environment Programme

                      School of Geography
                      University Park
                      University of Nottingham
                      Nottingham, NG7 2RD

                      telephone: +44 (0) 115 84 66071