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Undersyksaginda Fryske Akademy 2023-2027: projekt De minske en syn omjouwing


Coastal wilderness and cultural landscape?

Repositioning the coastal and tidal area as a cross-disciplinary research topic

Titel: Coastal wilderness and cultural landscape? Repositioning the coastal and tidal area as a cross-disciplinary research topic.
Undersykstema: De minske en syn omjouwing
Rintiid: 2023 - 2024
Koördinaasje Fryske Akademy: Nelleke IJssennagger-van der Pluijm
Partner: Birdeyes (University of Groningen)
Finansiering: KNAW Early Career Partnership
Kontakt: Nelleke IJssennagger-van der Pluijm



Historians and Ecologists alike agree that coastal and tidal areas are important landscapes, but ostensibly for very different and even incompatible qualities. From an ecological point of view, the landscapes are crucial zones of wilderness, whereas from the point of view of human history, they are key cultural landscapes of activity and communication. Natural scientists study these areas as ‘natural’ ecosystems, without taking into account that they have for centuries been cultural landscapes where the human hand has played a shaping  role. Cultural historians study the human hand in processes, but focus on human action in  specific periods without understanding the long-term dynamic of the natural environment in this ‘cultural landscape’. In general perception, these views and values are opposed to each other, a perception that is fortified by the fact that the humanities and ecological disciplines speak different scientific languages and rarely collaborate.

Yet when we zoom in, for example on the coasts of the Unesco World Heritage Wadden Sea area, we see that there are many similarities in all the different approaches to the coastal zone, which is remarkably different from the inland. In the ecological discourse, the coastal and tidal areas are the zones where migratory birds gather, feed and breed seasonally, before they move on to the next coastal area, creating a network of habitats. For the various disciplines studying the human past the coastal zone is an area of particular habitation, adaptation, of migration and exchange, by which it is connected to other coasts, forming a network of cultural zones. 

Coastal and tidal zones are thus particularly layered landscapes of meaning, in which the perspectives of wilderness and culture are not competing, but co-exist. In order to study this layered landscape of meaning, we need to learn to approach it in a non-disciplinary way. Not as the backdrop to the ecological and cultural changes over time, not as the scene of a particular bird type or historic event, but as a multi-disciplinary research topic itself, through the eyes of birds and historic people and in a shared language.