University of Nottingham

Learning to live with water: Flood histories, environmental change, remembrance and resilience

Project outline

Recent extreme floods in the UK and beyond have brought community resilience to flood events and future flood risk high onto research and political agendas. There have been, however, extreme floods in the past, and there is considerable historical evidence about the nature of these floods, and how communities remembered/ materialised these events (e.g. in flood marks and narratives), protected themselves, and thus built memories and experiences into their community resilience. Memories and stories of past flood events, then, might help future community resilience.

Flood levels at Worcester. Photo: Philip Halling.
Flood levels Worcester

Network aims

The overarching aim of this project was to establish distinctive, innovative and engaging arts and humanities research perspectives on watery and flooded landscapes and their environmental change, and local life with them, through an interdisciplinary and inter-professional network of international significance. Members have sought:
  • To identify new theoretical and conceptual frameworks for exploring wet and episodically flooded landscapes and how people live with them.
  • To explore how memories, archives and mnemonic practices surrounding extreme and casual flooding, awareness of flood/watery heritage, local/lay/informal knowledge of 18th-21st century floods have been and are experienced, remembered, materialised, formalised and enhanced in UK lowland/wetland floodplain communities. The idea here is that the deep, time-rich and embodied practice of coping with water in and on the landscape is one that can be both shared and materialised in the 'waterscape'.
  • To research the changing and potential role of different creative practices - including flood marking, oral history, creative writing, local archives, websites, local history writing, storytelling/digital storytelling, reminiscence theatre, performance arts, digital archiving, social networking, and photography/film making, singing, song writing - have in developing knowledge about flood histories and environmental change which may help local communities live with(in) watery landscapes in an emotionally and practically resilient way.
  • To apply the insights gained from the network to explore how social learning around extreme floods/flood risk watery sense of place and their histories can be supported and developed by a range of agencies (academics, artists, government bodies, NGOs) in the wider governance frameworks aimed at developing community resilience to future flood risk.


Resources from all of the workshops are available from the Living Flood Histories project website (still live as of December 2013).

Workshop 1: 'Floods and environmental change: conceptual frameworks for watery landscapes and living with floods'

Location: University of West of England (UWE)
Date: 26th November 2010

This workshop involved lively discussions about theoretical frameworks and links to practice. Talks were interspersed with a number of fictional readings and opportunities to view and discuss artworks inspired by water and flood.


Workshop 2: 'Flood heritage: exploring flood archives for understanding the known pathways to resilience'

Location: University of Gloucestershire
Date: 3rd February 2011

This workshop was held in collaboration with the Centre for Study of Floods and Communities at the University of Gloucestershire. Talks at this event were combined with musical performances inspired by flood.


Workshop 3: 'Flood Stories: Exploring Informal Narratives of Resilience Past and Present'

Location: Storytelling Centre, University of Glamorgan, Cardiff
Date: 30th March 2011

The final workshop was held in collaboration with the Glamorgan Centre for Disaster Management. Poetry readings on the theme of flooding were combined with academic presentations.


Writing Retreat

Location: University of Gloucester
Date: 17th June 2011

The writing retreat enabled planning for the network's written outputs. This includes a themed edition of Journal of Arts and Communities and we are exploring the possibility of an edited volume of short pieces.

Living Flood Histories Conference

Location: Guildhall Arts Centre, Gloucester
Date: 16th June 2011

This conference drew on the spirit of interdisciplinarity and performance that had characterised the three preceding workshops. The event had three overarching themes around learning to live with floods and futures – conceptual underpinnings, local knowledges and resilience.

Keynote speakers were:

  • Dr John Wylie (Department of Geography, University of Exeter)
  • Dr Carrie Jo Coaplen (Department of English, Morehead University, USA)
  • Professor Hamish Fyfe (George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling, University of Glamorgan)

The key question addressed by the conference was: 'What can arts and humanities research bring to research on watery landscapes, flood histories and environmental change?' Themes informing this question include:

  • Theoretical and conceptual underpinnings for research on flood histories/environmental change
  • Researching flood memory - developing social learning for community flood resilience
  • Exploring the creative/performed responses to waterscapes
  • Researching flooding and diversity – across generations and cultures
  • Researching creative strategies for managing flooding and flood risk
  • Researching floods and connectivity: exploring local to global connections between wetland/flood-risk communities

The conference was accompanied by a public exhibition, 'Wateryscapes'.



This research has formed a bridge between artistic and conceptual practice, and practical community development and policy development in the very important area of flood risk and flood resilience.

Network members edited and contributed to a themed Special Issue of the Journal of Arts and Communities.

In the public exhibition 'Wateryscapes' shown throughout June 2011 at the Guildhall in Gloucester, works in various media were displayed – from collage through to photography and poetry. Contributors included Valerie Coffin-Price and the Gloucestershire-based collective 'Walking the Land'. Taken together, the aim was to explore how we might represent the Wateryscape. During the showing, there were opportunities for visitors to post their own flood memories alongside their reflections on the exhibition.

Ongoing Influence

A number of RCUK projects have been developed, which either followed on from, or drew on, the thinking and networking within the AHRC Living Flood Histories network:

  • AHRC Partnership award: Care for the Future: Enhancing the Role of Arts and Humanities Perspectives on Environmental Values and Change. 'Before the Flood': Interweaving situated performance and flood narratives for resilience building in hard-to-reach urban flood risk communities (February 2012-January 2013).
  • ESRC Knowledge Exchange - Sustainable flood memory - trialling digital storytelling as a form of adaptive learning and knowledge exchange for resilience in 'at risk communities' (August 2013-July 2014).
  • AHRC Connected Communities Environments and Sustainability Large Grant; 'Towards hydrocitizenship. Connecting communities with and through responses to interdependent, multiple water issues' (March 2014 to February 2017).
  • RCUK Drought and Water Scarcity programme: Developing A Drought Narrative Resource In A Multi-Stakeholder Decision-Making Utility For Drought Risk Management (April 2014 to March 2018).
‘My Journey’ from ‘After the Rain: Flood, Vulnerability and Urban Resilience in Hull', presentation by Rebecca Whittle.


‘This much I know, the rest I shall guess’ by Simon Read. A response to the Shoreline Management Plan for the Suffolk Coast 2010


Award details

Duration: July 2010 - June 2011, duration 12 months

Principal Investigator:
Professor Lindsey McEwan

Higher Education Institution:
Department of Natural and Social Science, University of Gloucestershire

Project team members:
  • Dr Owain Jones, University of West of England
  • Dr Iain Robertson, University of Gloucestershire
  • Professor Mike Wilson, University College Falmouth


Network blog

Community performance theatre

'Wateryscapes' at the Guildhall, Gloucester


McEwen, L. J., Robertson, I. and Wilson, M., eds (2012). Themed Special Issue Journal of Arts and Communities. Living Flood Histories.

McEwen, L. J., Robertson, I. and Wilson, M. (2012) Editorial - Learning to live with water: Flood histories, environmental change, remembrance and resilience. Journal of Arts & Communities, 4, 3-9.

McEwen, L. J., Reeves, D., Brice, J., Meadley, F. K., Lewis, K. and Macdonald, N. (2012) Archiving flood memories of changing flood risk: interdisciplinary explorations around knowledge for resilience. Journal of Arts and Communities 4, 46-75.  

Related links



Landscape and Environment Programme

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

telephone: +44 (0) 115 84 66071