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Empire, Trees, and Climate: Critical Dendroprovenancing in the British North Atlantic

Sat, April 1, 10:30am to 12:00pm, The Drake Hotel, French


How can historical geographers and environmental historians collaborate with geophysical scientists to understand Britain’s global empire and forest and climate histories of the North Atlantic? The following paper is based on an international collaborative project, “Empire, Trees, and Climate: Critical Dendroprovenancing in the British North Atlantic,” which combines theoretical and methodological approaches in historical geography and history with dendrochronology to understand how the Atlantic triangle trade in timber can inform studies on climate. In the early to mid-nineteenth century, British North America was an integral site in Britain’s triangular trade of timber, fish, sugar, rum, and molasses with the West Indies. Known today as eastern Canada, the region’s forests and watersheds were transformed into the “modern” world system as the Crown secured lands and timber rights during the Napoleonic Wars. Considering that British North American timber was integral to ship-building, imperial infrastructure (dockyards, fortifications, government buildings), and maritime supremacy in the age of sail, we provide an overview of our findings on how archival and museum research, dendroprovenancing (e.g. analysis of tree ring widths of historic buildings and shipwrecks), and visualizing techniques using GIS can provide important insights into climatic conditions of the past. We also discuss the benefits and challenges of bringing together geography and history, and more specifically approaches from the humanities and environmental sciences. This project is funded by the Government of Canada’s SSHRC Insight Development Grant (2014-2016).