University launches centre for ‘water cultures’ after £1.35m funding

25th Jan

The University of Hull has secured more than £1 million of funding for a new centre that will explore humanity’s relationship with water in the ‘green-blue’ regions of the world, past, present and future.

The Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarships Centre for Water Cultures will pioneer a new, humanities-led, interdisciplinary research area, the ‘green-blue’ humanities.

Researchers will learn from the past, from multiple disciplines and from western, non-western and indigenous water cultures, with the aim of improving our understanding and resilience to water shocks and stresses including flood, drought and unclean water.

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Dr Briony McDonagh (left), director of the Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarships Centre and part of the university’s Energy & Environment Institute, said: “This centre builds on the University of Hull’s international reputation for research into global water risks and resilience, cementing existing synergies and bringing the arts and humanities to bear on the urgent societal challenge of learning to live with water.

“The scholarship programme offers a fantastic opportunity to train the next generation of doctoral researchers in a critically important area of interdisciplinary research which Hull is uniquely positioned to take forward.

“I am delighted that the university was successful in securing funding, and look forward to working with colleagues, doctoral researchers and external partners in learning from diverse ‘water cultures’ past and present.”

More than 30% of the global population live within 60 miles of the sea, with estuaries and coastlines home to many of the world’s largest cities.

Today, human-induced climate change is increasing both the likelihood and severity of floods and droughts, leaving coastal and estuarine populations particularly vulnerable in an uncertain future climate.

People and societies must learn to ‘live with water’ and build resilience at the individual, local, regional, national and global scales.

The Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarships Centre for Water Cultures brings together experts from the sciences, arts, humanities, and health sciences to explore how our relationships with the environment must change in order to sustain cities, communities, and cultures for the generations of tomorrow.

The University’s Leverhulme grant will create at least 24 new PhD opportunities, with fully funded four-year scholarships available.

Stewart Mottram, deputy director at the centre, said: “Our research recognises that water has long shaped the cultures of the many communities living in the world’s coastal and estuary regions, and that we can learn vital lessons for our future relationship with water by studying how this relationship has changed over time and across cultures.

“As a researcher working on the literature and history of humanity’s relationship with water, I’m excited to be playing my part in establishing ‘water cultures’ as a centre of research excellence in a pioneering new interdisciplinary area: ‘the green-blue humanities’.”

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An aerial image of Spurn Point following the tidal surge of December 2013. Photo: Environment Agency

The n1ew Leverhulme Centre will focus on three key challenges surrounding water. These are:

  • Flood and water-based disasters
  • Water scarcity (including drought and water supply issues)
  • Unsafe water (including concerns over sanitation, disease and pollution)

The centre will equip a new generation of PhD students to take this agenda forward, transforming our understanding of our relationships with water and shaping future research agendas, methods, and approaches within and between disciplines.

Playing an integral role in the Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarships Centre is the university’s Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation.

Professor Trevor Burnard, director at the Wilberforce Institute, said: “This centre works beautifully with the well-established Wilberforce Institute and its long-standing concentration upon historical and modern slavery.

“Water and slavery, sadly, are inextricably linked together through such things as the Atlantic slave trade and illegal migration and modern slavery in the Mediterranean and the English Channel.

“This funding allows the Wilberforce Institute to combine with this centre to further research on slavery and water challenges.”

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