Learning from the Past: Exploiting Archives for Historical Water Management Research

Houghton-Foster, Helen
(2021) Learning from the Past: Exploiting Archives for Historical Water Management Research. PhD thesis, University of Liverpool.

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This thesis examines the challenges for environmental research in UK archives and presents possible solutions for archivists to implement. It is the result of a collaboration between the University of Liverpool (jointly between the departments of Geography and History) and the Staffordshire Record Office. The result is a multi-disciplinary thesis that unites multiple different fields of research and methods of analysis in order to create solutions and guidance which can support researchers using archives for environmental research. To achieve this, research with a volunteer project using material held at the Staffordshire Record Office is used as a case study to discuss archival practice. This allows this thesis to position itself with both the archive user and archivist and examine potential solutions from both perspectives. This thesis uses a varied methodology: applying both qualitative and quantitative methods of analysis to archival material then supplementing this with surveys, an interview, and retrospectively assessing the Historic Flooding and Drought in Staffordshire project as though it were a pilot to test solutions to archival problems. Part 1 presents the case study: a piece of original research into flooding and water in Staffordshire between 1550 and 1750. Legal and administrative records are used to examine how watercourses and flooding were managed in the period and to look for responses to flooding. This is primarily a social-environmental history of mundane water management, drawing on existing traditions of social history. It will then move on to examine the potential of the same records for methods of quantitative analysis borrowed from historical geography to identify flood seasonality, causes and flood-rich periods. In Part 2, the case study is then coupled with the experience of coordinating a volunteer project in a local record office (Historic Flooding and Drought in Staffordshire) to examine the obstacles to environmental research and propose potential solutions. This will account for both the perspectives and needs of researchers, and archival principles and practice. While this thesis acknowledges that there are no perfect solutions to obstacles to environmental research, it will argue that there are achievable ways of supporting research and positions itself with scholarship that views the archive as dynamic and adaptable. Two solutions that are achievable within constraints often facing repositories are then presented: subject guides and collaborative projects. Guidance is presented on producing subject guides for environmental research, based on analysis of subject guides as a genre and the premise that environmental researchers can have varied levels of prior experience in archives. Following this, Historic Flooding and Drought is assessed to examine the benefits – and challenges – of collaborative volunteer projects for the volunteers, the archive, and the collaborating researchers.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Divisions: Faculty of Science and Engineering > School of Environmental Sciences
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 26 Nov 2021 10:21
Last Modified: 18 Jan 2023 21:26
DOI: 10.17638/03140920
URI: https://livrepository.liverpool.ac.uk/id/eprint/3140920