[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-Water]: Tomory on Skelton, 'Tyne after Tyne: An Environmental History of a River's Battle for Protection, 1529-2015'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Mon Dec 3 22:25:34 MST 2018

Best regards,
Andrew Stewart 

Begin forwarded message:

> From: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.msu.edu>
> Date: December 3, 2018 at 11:47:28 PM EST
> Subject: H-Net Review [H-Water]:  Tomory on Skelton, 'Tyne after Tyne: An Environmental History of a River's Battle for Protection, 1529-2015'
> Reply-To: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.msu.edu>
> Leona J. Skelton.  Tyne after Tyne: An Environmental History of a
> River's Battle for Protection, 1529-2015.  Winwick  White Horse
> Press, 2017.  Illustrations, maps. 296 pp.  $95.00 (cloth), ISBN
> 978-1-874267-95-9.
> Reviewed by Leslie Tomory (McGill University)
> Published on H-Water (December, 2018)
> Commissioned by Aditya Ramesh
> The field of water and river history has flourished in recent years.
> One survey article published in 2017 provides a long list of
> scholarship on rivers in the Western world from the last twenty years
> alone.[1] British rivers have not, however, benefited from this
> growth of the field to the same degree, with the exception of the
> River Thames, which has long been the object of study. This is
> beginning to change with such books as Jim Clifford's _West Ham and
> the River Lea_ (2017). Leona J. Skelton, a senior lecturer in
> environmental history at Northumbria University, has now added her
> own contribution with a history of the River Tyne told over a long
> time range from 1529 to the present. This lengthy range allows
> Skelton to chart quite distinct periods in the river's history, which
> she divides into three main parts. The first and longest part runs
> from 1529 to 1855, the second to 1972, and the last takes the story
> to the present.
> Skelton argues that each of these three periods of her history was
> marked by different "socio-environmental entanglements" with distinct
> salient characteristics in how people using and living along the
> river interacted with it. Skelton relies especially on Richard
> White's historiographic model of the "organic machine" __from his
> study of the Columbia River (_The Organic Machine: The Remaking of
> the Columbia River_ [1995]) and to a lesser extent on Sara B.
> Pritchard's "enviro-technical landscape" __from her history of the
> Rhône (_Confluence: The Nature of Technology and the Remaking of the
> Rhône_ [2011]). These and other historians have emphasized the
> intrinsic connections between the natural environment, human society,
> and technology in river systems, and have tried to move away from
> nature/human dichotomies. Unlike White, however, the concept of
> energy is not prominent in this book. Skelton does not focus on a
> single common element throughout the chapters, choosing rather
> different themes to focus on such areas as river navigation and
> perceptions of cleanliness. However, she does give particular
> attention to what "conservation" or responsibility for the state of
> the river meant in these periods. Moving from the mandate to keep the
> river clear for navigation before 1855, conservation shifted to
> fostering industrial development, and then finally to environmental
> concerns.
> The first two chapters deal with the earlier period from 1529 to the
> mid-nineteenth century. The history begins when the Crown named the
> mayor and aldermen of the Newcastle Corporation the conservators of
> the Tyne and its tributaries via a parliamentary act. The purpose was
> to preserve the freedom of navigation from encroachment and to
> prevent silt from blocking the channel. From that time, the river's
> conservators considered applications from riparian landowners to do
> works that could alter the river's flow, such as the construction of
> docks. The corporation's activity in this role was only sporadic to
> 1613, when new bylaws were passed regulating various activities along
> the Tyne, such as waste disposal and the construction of wharves.
> From this point onward, the corporation every year appointed water
> bailiffs and river jurors to monitor and hear cases of
> contraventions. These institutions continued to exist until 1835 when
> municipal reform laws replaced them with a River Committee. Skelton
> argues that the activity of the Tyne river court can be seen as a
> form of environmental regulation that prevented the overdevelopment
> of the river. In doing so, she tries to seek similarities with the
> environmental regulations that would emerge in the twentieth century,
> while recognizing that the motivations were to preserve the river for
> economical motives. While she is correct to point out that modes of
> environmental preservation existed long before the late nineteenth
> century, the commonalities with twentieth-century movements, which
> she mentions in a number of places, seem overdrawn.
> The next chapters describe the Tyne Improvement Commission (TIC)
> activities from 1850 to 1968. The commission was created by
> Parliament with a mandate to foster the river's economic utility.
> This commission's principal interest was above all on the trade that
> flowed down the river. As in the earlier period, this included
> keeping its central channel deep and free-flowing for ship traffic.
> It developed a degree of expertise by employing a well-paid engineer
> to report on proposed works along the river, as well as waste
> disposed into it. The TIC was concerned with waste discharged into
> the river but only because it could be a barrier to navigation. This
> narrow interest meant that almost all applications for docks, sewers,
> and other structures along the river were approved. Whatever interest
> there was in preserving nature, on an institutional basis at least,
> was found in the Tyne Salmon Conservancy (TSC). It was founded in
> 1866 in the wake of Royal Commissions on salmon conservancy and was
> given the mandate to protect the fish in the river. Skelton argues
> that the TSC and its successors built up knowledge of the state of
> the fish in the Tyne (and other rivers in the area) that, while not
> producing immediate results, nevertheless proved valuable for
> environmental protection in the long term, especially after the
> 1950s. For example, scientific studies from the 1920s and 1930s
> explored water quality and fish species. The TSC made a concerted
> effort in these years to motivate a cleanup of the river as it became
> ever more polluted with effluent. Efforts to get the funding
> necessary for this from the central government, however, failed so
> that by 1940s, the Tyne was in worse shape than ever before. The
> 1950s were little better in this regard. The slow recovery from the
> Second World War and its accompanying austerity offered little scope
> for spending on environmental protection, even as local campaigns
> tried to bring attention to the problem. Untreated sewage continued
> to flow into the river. Finally, in the 1960s the situation began to
> change. Two new bodies were created to conserve watercourses in the
> area and to build sewer systems to spare the rivers. The Tyneside
> Joint Sewerage Committee organized the funding for a new sewer
> system, with construction beginning in 1972.
> The last part of the book deals with the era from 1975. A major
> hydropower dam was constructed on the North Tyne at Kielder, creating
> the United Kingdom's largest artificial lake in 1982. Local
> resistance to the scheme, motivated by a fear of aesthetic
> degradation it was thought to entail, was fierce. The project went
> ahead nevertheless. Although the dam has served as a major source of
> hydroelectric power, it has not produced all of the intended
> benefits. The reservoir proved to be as valuable to the local
> chemical industry as had been hoped, while the dam's effects on the
> fish and water temperature have been controversial. Indeed, the
> deindustrialization of the Tyne that limited the chemical industry
> also afforded the opportunity to prioritize environmental issues
> above all else. Beyond the first efforts to cleaning up the river,
> boosting biodiversity eventually became a goal for the Environmental
> Agency.
> _Tyne after Tyne_ is an interesting and welcome addition to the field
> of river history. Although at times its longer historiographic
> discussions make it a heavy read, it offers a number of important
> contributions. Beyond providing a good history of the River Tyne,
> Skelton is to be particularly congratulated for her effective use of
> oral histories to explore how people experienced a very polluted
> river before 1950. This kind of research can offer a different
> perspective to that derived from the writings of commissions and
> campaigners. The long-term perspective on the changing idea of
> "conservator" is also interesting. The book deserves close attention
> from river historians.
> Note
> [1]. Paula Schönach, "River Histories: A Thematic Review," _Water
> History_ 9 (2017): 233-257.
> Citation: Leslie Tomory. Review of Skelton, Leona J., _Tyne after
> Tyne: An Environmental History of a River's Battle for Protection,
> 1529-2015_. H-Water, H-Net Reviews. December, 2018.
> URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=53118
> This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
> Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
> License.
> --

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