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Changing Understandings of Tidal Environments in Northeastern North America

Thu, March 30, 3:30 to 5:00pm, The Drake Hotel, Superior

Session Submission Type: Panel


This interdisciplinary session explores how human interactions with -- and human understandings of -- tidal environments in northeastern North America (in particular the Bay of Fundy and the St. Lawrence Estuary) have changed over time. It also explores how those understandings have been shaped or challenged by an increasingly activist state, technology, the growing influence of scientific experts, and capitalism.

Historian Ronald Rudin’s paper examines how traditional understandings of how to use the Bay of Fundy tides to reclaim and fertilize marshlands (dyking and tiding) were challenged in the mid-twentieth century by state-led initiatives to replace dykes with dams located at the mouths of major rivers and through the use of new chemical fertilizers. Historian James Kenny’s paper highlights how, again in the mid-twentieth century, influential state actors, “expert” engineers, and some business interests began to view the tidal region of Passamaquoddy Bay as a potential source of electricity to meet rapidly growing industrial and consumer demand. As in Rudin’s study, this state initiative was challenged by primary producers (fishers) concerned that their traditional practices and access to resources yielded by the tidal environment would be disrupted. Finally, geographer Matthew Hatvany uses the case study of the St. Lawrence Estuary to provide broader theoretical perspective on how human understandings of tidal wetlands have changed over time. In particular, he explores how -- and why – state/scientific views have differed with those of local populations

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