Floods: living with water in the past, present and future

Network Lead: Dr Katherine Selby, University of York

Flooding is a major global hazard causing severe environmental damage and destroying lives, communities and economies. Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of flooding through sea level rise and increased precipitation. Consequently, we are facing greater challenges living with floods: the threat of floods and the impact of floods are transforming landscapes and livelihoods.

Living with flooding can be reduced to a technical problem: finding engineering and physical environmental solutions for monitoring, predicting, and protecting people and landscapes. Yet such separation of the material from the cultural profoundly weakens our understandings of and resilience to climate change. Flooding has societal causes alongside its effects, such as the long-term intensive grazing of upland landscapes leading to rapid run-off of rainwater and downstream flood events. Floods have always shaped landscapes and, as such, have influenced how societies enculturate environments. Flooding is historically constituted and our responses to floods and the risks of flooding are shaping how we live in and make our landscapes.

What should we change if we are to be resilient in the face of the increasing scale and unpredictability of floods? How can we decide what to protect and what to give up to flooding? Put simply, how can we live with floods? This network will investigate the narratives that we have told, and can tell, when water inundates the land. It will develop novel approaches to researching floods at the intersection between floods as socio-environmental processes, as historical events, and as cultural representations. Through an innovative combination of humanities and social sciences methodologies, it will show how an analysis of flood stories can bring positive benefits for society and the environment.

The three projects are connected through their shared interest in the stories of floods and how these can be mobilised to understand and mitigate the future impacts of flooding on humanity. They differ in their historical and geographical settings, and in their methodologies.

University Studentship project title Main Supervisor Co-supervisor
Leeds: Sebastian O’Connor Living well with water: complex stories, democratic decision-making Helen Graham

Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, University of Leeds

Anna Jorgensen

Department of Landscape, University of Sheffield

Sheffield: Coco Neal Water takes land: interactive deep maps of England’s lost villages Bob Johnston

Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield

Debbie Maxwell

Department of Theatre, Film and Television, University of York

York: Alexander Jardine Tracing coastal storm flooding in landscape and literature Katherine Selby

Department of Environment, University of York

David Higgins

School of English, University of Leeds