The study of islands is booming. Disciplines like anthropology and geography have been instrumental in shifting the focus from mainland to island and exploring islands “on their own terms” during the past several decades. The importance of islands for the human cultural and literary imagination has long been established. Recent scholarship has also asserted islands’ importance for the course of history. Political, economic, and cultural historians have shown that islands are far from the ahistorical places they are sometimes perceived as. Islands have played a key role in the history of continents, have been crucial locales of state-making, have been essential for dictatorships as prison systems, and acted as frontiers and stepping stones of empires.
Amid this surge of interest, one aspect of islands’ stories has so far received little attention: the role that their environments have played in creating and shaping history. Islands have not been just backdrops of events: their environment has both influenced and been influenced by the cultures, bodies, experiences, and behaviours of their human and more-than-human inhabitants. To understand why an island became a penal colony, an atomic test site, or a tourist destination we must take a close look at its physical shape, its geology, its climate, its flora and fauna (or indeed lack thereof) and its position vis-à-vis other places. We also cannot understand an island’s place in history without considering the changing ways in which it was perceived, used, valued or dismissed, protected or mistreated over time.
We therefore propose an edited volume dedicated to the environmental history of islands as entities in their own right. We look for contributions that challenge the traditional center-periphery perspective, and instead take an island-centered approach, delving into both the islands’ own stories and their role in larger historical developments. We aim to produce portraits of islands as dynamic entities that both shape history and are shaped by it. We would be excited to receive abstracts that reflect the islands’ tremendous diversity: from remote oceanic isles to archipelagos and hyper-connected island port cities, from prison camps and quarantines to tropical paradises and holiday destinations, from volcanic islands over silt river islands to sediment limestone and guano islands. We welcome environmental histories, case studies, and island eco-biographies from around the globe.
Themes and research questions can include, but are not limited to:
- Island materialities: What roles have the materialities of islands played in their history? What was it that shaped them physically? What are the material layers left there by history?
- Island temporalities: How have specific islands come to be, and how have they materially changed over time and why (appearance, disappearance, shapeshifting)? What are the notions and senses of time on, and in relation to, islands?
- Island (id)entities: What kind of human stories have “branded” the islands (as, for instance, prison island, honeymoon island, asylum island, island of exile, treasure island, garbage island)? How have these identities changed, overlapped and shifted over time?
- The spirit of an island (genius loci): phenomenology of islands, islands as places, islands as spaces
- Archipelagos, aquapelagos, mainlands: connections of islands to the larger world
We aim to publish the planned edited volume with one of the established academic presses within the field of environmental history. Before we pitch to a publisher, we will invite input from the prospective authors to make this edited volume a truly collaborative project all authors can fully identify with.
Please send an abstract of your contribution of about 300 words to Milica Prokić (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Pavla Šimková (email@example.com). Deadline for the abstracts is September 15, 2021.