Topic: The pursuit of the ‘good forest’ in colonial Kenya
Supervisors: Dr Phia Steyn and Dr Paul Adderley
I began my student life by studying a BA in history and an MA in international relations at Leicester University, where my research focused on the theoretical connections between the environment and violent conflict. This is a topic that gains occasional media coverage with alarmist projections of possible scenarios like 'water wars' in Africa, although these usually lack historical precedent. Upon beginning my M.Res in environmental history at the University of Stirling I took this topic further by applying theoretical models of adaption to environmental change, which include the possibility of conflict, to the colonial period of Nigerian history. This research allowed the way in which colonial rule used the environment, specifically state forestry, as a tool for both economic and political dominance to be highlighted, but also showed the resourcefulness and adaptability of African peoples that allowed them to avoid violent conflict. The discipline of environmental history is well suited to this topic, allowing the integration of traditional document analysis with scientific investigation of the land.
I am now continuing my research at the University of Stirling by beginning a PhD entitled “The pursuit of the ‘good forest’ in colonial Kenya”, investigating the development of the colonial forestry department in Kenya in terms of how it related to the other sections of the colonial administration and how its twin goals of forest conservation and sustainable timber harvesting were met, or not, in the face of competing demands for agricultural land both from indigenous Africans and the white settler community. This will yield new insight into whether scientific forestry was truly a coherent ideology that guided colonial forest control or whether it was merely a theoretical ideal that bore little resemblance to the reality of colonial forestry. The findings of such a study have continued resonance today, as many forest communities in Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America are currently experiencing the encroachment of state or private forestry onto their lands. The population displacement and destruction of traditional ways of life that this is causing have numerous antecedents in the colonial period of African history.
Vicki Hodgson, PhD candidate
I completed my PhD on the medieval abbey of Coupar Angus, encompassing its economic, environmental and social history. One of the main focuses of my research was the degree to which the abbey conformed to Cistercian ideals and the extent to which it was forced to abandon the concept of separation from the lay world. Determining this involved analysis of the abbey’s landholding and the methods of exploitation employed. Aside from the economic and environmental aspects, the other main focus of this study was determining the lay and ecclesiastical networks of the abbey, particularly through an examination of witness lists. This included an investigation of the lay patronage granted to Coupar Angus, along with the ecclesiastical relations of the abbey. My aim was to advance our understanding of how Scottish monastic life operated, in addition to contributing to a wider understanding of the functioning of the Cistercian order.
Education: BA (Hons) History (University of Stirling) and M.Res in Historical Research (University of Stirling)
Katy Jack, PhD candidate
Having spent the majority of my formative years living in Saudi Arabia, I returned to the UK on a permanent basis when I was 15. Finishing my secondary education at a boarding school in Cumbria, I began an undergraduate degree at the University of Stirling in Scottish History, which I completed in 2011. I then remained at Stirling to undertake the Masters in Historical Research, and this lead to my PhD.
My research interests lie mainly in the exercise of power and lordship in medieval Scotland, focussing on the north east of Scotland. My undergraduate and M.Res degrees analysed the lands and lordship of the families of Gordon and Forbes respectively, paying particular attention to the bitter feud which existed between the two families between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries.
My PhD topic, a continuation of research done for both my undergraduate degree and my Masters, explored the political and local consequences of the decline and fall of the earls of Mar in north-east Scotland during the fifteenth century, which families the crown chose to raise up to replace them, and the struggle for territorial dominance that followed. By predominantly building my study around the ‘decline and fall’ of the Mar earls, I hoped to provide an insight into a theme which is often incorporated into wider studies seeking to provide a broad analysis of the history and organization of a medieval earldom or lordship over a large period.
Education: BA (Hons) Scottish History (University of Stirling) and M.Res in Historical Research (University of Stirling)
Sven Leman, PhD candidate (2013-)
I spread the map of Africa before him, and tracing a line from Cairo to Sennar, and from thence westward in the latitude and supposed direction of the Niger, I told him that was the route, by which I was anxious that Africa might, if possible, be explored.’(Henry Beaufoy instructing John Ledyard, 1789)
The eighteenth century witnessed the expansion of European interaction across the globe and the flowering of intellectual practice in the metropolitan centres of the Old World. However, as the people, geography, flora and fauna of strange and foreign places were recorded and absorbed into the archive of popular knowledge, Africa remained an enigmatic mystery. The great quests for the River Niger and the city-states of the interior fascinated Britain at a time when the most reliable sources for the region’s geography were hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years old. Innocent quotes like that above demonstrate how little was known of the trials and obstacles facing any traveller planning to simply journey across the width of Africa in blind search of fabled rivers and towns.
By focusing on the cartographic element of Britain’s developing knowledge of and interaction with West Africa in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, I aimed to demonstrate that there is a historical narrative that can only be understood from the perspective of how that region was mapped. The process of map-production is one of data-acquisition, reception, interpretation and publication, all processes that are heavily rooted in the intellectual, political and economic contexts of the day. Improving standards of observing and recording geographical information throughout the period in question also contributed to the use of maps by the state and individuals. In this period, maps evolved from being items of illustration and decoration to scientific texts that contributed to the geopolitics of nations.
The parameters of my study encompassed the trajectory of several themes relating to Britain’s relationship with West Africa (such as the Slave Trade, colonisation, abolition, legitimate commerce and international competition). More importantly, though, this study was contained within the history of two maps. Beginning with the blank map by Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d'Anville (1749), famously emptied of unverifiable information, it represents not only the empirical qualities of European Enlightenment but also a challenge to all who would fill in the details. My research ended in 1841 with James McQueen’s masterpiece designed to accompany the disastrous plans of the abolitionist Thomas Fowell Buxton who masterminded a doomed ascent of the Niger to secure anti-slavery treaties with African leaders. Whilst this final map was highly regarded as the most accurate of its day, the failure of the expedition marks a milestone of Britain’s interaction with West Africa in the final decades before the Conference of Berlin in 1884/5 and subsequent European colonization.
Education: BA (Hons.) first class (University of Stirling, 2011); MRes (Historical Research) Environmental History, with merit (University of Stirling, 2012)