Boost for ‘rubbish’ study

Thursday 22 November 2001

Scottish environmental historians who specialise in the history of pollution and waste have been awarded almost £900,000 to establish a unique international centre for research.

The Centre for Environmental History and Policy – already a joint initiative between the Universities of St Andrews and Stirling – has been awarded £882,638 by the AHRB (Arts and Humanities Research Board) for a four year project looking at various historical themes of one of the biggest challenges facing the UK – environmental waste.

The grant will help further the Centre’s reputation as a specialist in this important area of Environmental History. The Centre will be renamed the AHRB Centre for Environmental History.

The group will engage in six integrated projects over the next four years, including the ‘language of waste’; ‘cultural soils’; recycling and ‘trash culture’ and the management of household waste in Britain.

Dr Fiona Watson at the University of Stirling will act as Director for the new Centre, while Dr John Clark of the University of St Andrews will act as Associate Director.

Welcoming the news of the award, Dr Clark, said:

“Building on the successful work of the existing SHEFC-funded Centre, the AHRB Centre for Environmental History will establish a unique base for international scholarship in an important field of study. Through a historical study of ‘waste’, the Centre will draw together a number of academic disciplines while addressing a fundamental human activity. Historically, the many meanings of ‘waste’ include unoccupied or uncultivated land, wilderness and desert, in addition to objects or materials that are discarded or regarded as valueless.”

“The recent epidemic of foot and mouth disease has highlighted issues of biological threats; intensive cultivation of land and the relative economic and aesthetic merits of wasteland; and the disposal of natural wastes. Similarly, this summer, Environment Minister Michael Meacher identified ‘dealing with our ever-increasing piles of rubbish’ as one of the biggest challenges facing the UK. Although careful to separate environmental history from environmentalism, and to avoid simple lessons from history, the Centre hopes that, by providing historical perspective, we can increase awareness of the complexities of environmental problems.”

Committed to understanding human interaction with the natural world through time, environmental historians at St Andrews and Stirling have worked to develop this field for about a decade. Founded in 1992 by Professor T. C. Smout, the Institute for Environmental History at the University of St Andrews, remains unique in Western Europe.

In 1999, a large three-year grant from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC) enabled the Institute to strengthen its research culture by joining forces with the University of Stirling to create the Centre for Environmental History and Policy. Past and present research includes woodland history, coastal archaeology in Scotland, the history of pollution and waste, land use and cultural landscapes, nature conservation and countryside recreation, and species history.

Designed to secure firmly the two universities’ lead in the sub- discipline of environmental history, the new Centre intends to make itself a specialist in the history of ‘waste’.


For further information on the work of the Centre, please call Dr John Clark direct on 01334 462910, or Dr Fiona Watson at Stirling on 01786 467588.


Issued by Beattie Media On behalf of the University of St Andrews Contact Gayle Cook on 01334 467227, mobile 07900 050103, or email [email protected] Ref: john clark env hist grant 211101 View the latest University news at


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