Nature Writing’s Future Pasts

deadline for submissions: 
December 1, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Land Lines: British Nature Writing 1789-2014 (AHRC Project)
contact email: 

British nature writing can be understood as both a product of and a challenge to a western-style modernity that has created the conditions for its own unravelling. The tense that best captures these conditions is the future anterior. Scottish writer Kathleen Jamie, wandering through Bergen’s Natural History Museum, marvels at the ‘decaying bones of twenty-four cetacean skeletons crowded under the ceiling’. One whale skeleton alone, that of a gigantic blue, is ‘less an animal, more a narrative’. The different cetacean narratives add up to a devastating commentary to which even words such as ‘waste’ and ‘slaughter’ and ‘holocaust’ and ‘shame’ cannot do full justice. Jamie duly joins a team of conservators who lovingly polish up the bones, dedicated to preserving a future past.

What are the futures of nature writing, in Britain and elsewhere? What are its pasts? And how might these be brought together? This two-day conference, held at the University of Leeds, will examine the different temporal registers of modern British nature writing, from the foundational work of Gilbert White in the late eighteenth century to the present day. Topics will include, but are not restricted to: deep time; the effects of temporal scales; predictions and prophecies; the workings of environmental memory; and the conflicted relationship between nature writing, natural history and changing conceptions of ‘nature’ itself. Attention will also be given to the relationship between hope and despair in modern British nature writing; to the transnational and global contexts within which it operates; and to the anticipated losses –– but also the alternative futures –– it confronts.

The conference dates are Thursday 28th February and Friday 1st March 2019. We especially invite proposals for papers from Postgraduate and Early Career researchers. Alternative formats are welcomed (pre-formed panels; discussion groups based on 5-minute position papers; roundtables, etc). We anticipate that the conference will also be open to interested members of the public, either as presenters or audience members, numbers allowing.

Our confirmed keynote speakers are Patrick Barkham (author of Islander, The Butterfly Isles, Coastlines, and environment correspondent for The Guardian), Miriam Darlington (author of Otter Country and Owl Sense, and Lecturer in English and Creative Writing at the University of Plymouth), and Richard Kerridge (author of Cold Blood and leader of the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University). As well as delivering keynote talks these speakers will also be giving a reading at Leeds Library open to both conference delegates and the public on the evening of the 28th February.

To submit your proposal please email a 250 word abstract to by 1st December 2018, with ‘Land Lines Conference’ in the subject bar. Please attach your proposal as an anonymised document and also paste it into the body of the email. If you are interested in attending but not presenting please also email us by this date so we can calculate numbers.

‘Land Lines’ is a 2-year, AHRC-funded research project working on the history of British nature writing, the main output of which will be a book for CUP (2019). Led by Professor Graham Huggan at the University of Leeds, the team also includes scholars from the Universities of Sussex and St Andrews.; Twitter: @LandLinesNature or Facebook: