Conservation’s Roots: Managing for Sustainability in Preindustrial Europe, 1100–1800

Abigail Dowling and Richard Keyser have edited a new volume on premodern environmental history. The ideas and practices that comprise “conservation” are often assumed to have arisen within the last two centuries. However, while conservation today has been undeniably entwined with processes of modernity, its historical roots run much deeper. Considering a variety of preindustrial European settings, Conservation’s Roots (Berghahn Books, 2020) assembles case studies from the medieval and early modern eras to demonstrate that practices like those advocated by modern conservationists were far more widespread and intentional than is widely acknowledged. As the first book-length treatment of the subject, Conservation’s Roots provides broad social, historical, and environmental context for the emergence of the nineteenth-century conservation movement.

Below is the Table of Contents. See the book’s webpage for more details.

Richard Keyser and Abigail P. Dowling

Part I. Multiple-Use Resource Management in Preindustrial Societies: Pigs, Parks, Game, and Heathlands

Chapter 1. Controlling Pigs in Countryside and City for Sustainable Medieval Agriculture
Dolly Jørgensen

Chapter 2. Sustainability and Natural Resource Management at Hesdin, Artois, France, 1302–1329
Abigail P. Dowling

Chapter 3. Eating Your Game and Having It Too: North-Central Italian Conservation of Game Animals and Birds, 1300–1550
Cristina Arrigoni Martelli

Chapter 4. Sustaining Premodern Heathlands (1400–1750): Collective Knowledge and Peasant Communities in the Campine, Belgium
Maïka De Keyzer

Part II. The Governance of Aquatic Resources: Fishing and Flowing Freshwater

Chapter 5. Fisheries Regulations in Late Medieval Europe: Authorities, Concerns, Measures
Richard C. Hoffmann

Chapter 6. Managing the Lake Constance Fisheries, ca. 1350–1800
Michael Zeheter

Chapter 7. Keep the Water Flowing! Premodern Swedish Water Management
Eva Jakobsson

Part III. The Deep Roots of Woodland Conservation

Chapter 8. The Medieval Roots of Woodland Conservation: Northern France and Northwestern Europe, ca. 1100-1500
Richard Keyser

Chapter 9. Managing Southern French Forests under—and before—Colbert: Between Law and Custom, ca. 1500-1700
Sébastien Poublanc

Chapter 10. Conserving the ‘Vert’ in Early Modern Sherwood Forest
Sara Morrison

Chapter 11. Sustainability Prior to Carlowitz’s Sylvicultura? A Study Based on Cases from Schleswig-Holstein
Oliver Auge

Chapter 12. Traditional Woodland Management, Forest Legislation, and Modern Nature Conservation in East-Central Europe
Péter Szabó

Paul Warde

IMC 2021 – Climates

The theme of the International Medieval Congress in Leeds for 2021 is Climates, a perfect fit for many environmental historians of the Middle Ages. The conference is all digital this year. Registration is open until 10 May 2021. See the IMC website for all the information about the conference, including the link to registration. You can go directly to the program here.

ENFORMA will host an informal networking event for environmental historians of the Middle Ages as part of the Congress. Information about this event will be available for those who register for the Congress.

ASEH 2017 Conference – Chicago

The American Society for Environmental History (ASEH) will hold their 2017 conference in Chicago, March 30-April 2. Unfortunately, there are very few pre-modern papers at the conference this year. Here is a list of those:

Navigating the North Atlantic Past through Archaeology, History and the Environmental Humanities, Thu, March 30, 3:30 to 5:00pm, with these papers:

  • Steven Hartman & George Hambrecht, The Inscribing Environmental Memory Project: interdisciplinary environmental humanities, archaeology and Icelandic Sagas
  • Poul Holm, North Atlantic Fisheries Revolution, c.1400-1700: climate, ocean productivity, and markets
  • Richard Oram, Diseased, Cold, Violent, and Scottish: environmental data and the revision of Scotland’s medieval history
  • Francis Feeley & Ramona Harrison, Zooarchaeology and Icelandic Fisheries- Progress and Potentials

Conservation in Historical and Comparative Perspective: Woodlands in Europe
Thu, March 30, 1:30 to 3:00pm, with these papers:

  • Richard Keyser, Medieval Conservation: The Example of French Woodlands
  • Alexander Olson, Sustainability in Byzantium
  • Alasdair David Ross, “Ane Great Distroyer of Woddis”: Counting Trees and Woodland Sustainability in 16th Century Scotland

Other early modern papers in mixed sessions:

  • Amber Roberts Graham, No Flatterer: Equine Complicity and Human Veracity in Stuart England, in Session A Change of Plans
  • Stefan Peychev, A Thermal Spring and Its City: Describing Early Modern Ottoman Sofia, in Session Ottoman Empire

New Book Series Environmental Humanities in Pre-Modern Cultures

Environmental Humanities in Pre-Modern Cultures

Series editors: Gillian Overing, Wake Forest University; Heide Estes, University of Cambridge and Monmouth University; Philip Slavin, University of Kent; Steven Mentz, St. John’s University

This series in environmental humanities offers approaches to medieval, early modern, and global pre-industrial cultures from interdisciplinary environmental perspectives. We invite submissions (both monographs and edited collections) in the fields of ecocriticism, specifically ecofeminism and new ecocritical analyses of under-represented literatures; queer ecologies; posthumanism; waste studies; environmental history; environmental archaeology; animal studies and zooarchaeology; landscape studies; ‘blue humanities’, and studies of environmental / natural disasters and change and their effects on pre-modern cultures.

Proposals Welcome:
We invite scholars at any stage of their careers to share their book proposals and draft manuscripts with us. Publications that make connections between environmental issues in pre-industrial cultures and current issues in sustainability, environmental policy, climate change, and human-nature interactions are especially welcome.
Proposals for monographs or edited volumes should kindly follow the standard AUP Proposal format and should also include the envisaged table of contents or overview of the volume and abstracts of the proposed chapters or articles.

Further Information:
For questions or to submit a proposal, contact Commissioning Editors Ilse Schweitzer ( and Erika Gaffney (; or visit

CFP: Panels on Intentional Preindustrial Sustainability

Call for Papers for two panels under the theme “Intentional Preindustrial Sustainability: Practices, Norms, and Ideas in Europe” at the upcoming “Premodern Ecologies” conference organized by the Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Oct. 20-22, 2016 (

These panels will examine preindustrial European usages of and reflections about natural resources that were geared more or less consciously towards ensuring productivity over the long term. In many cases intentional sustainability is most apparent in the management of commons or public resources, where concerns for maintaining pastures, woods, and wildlife have produced, among other things, abundant normative and regulatory texts. But contributors may also examine how preindustrial people managed privately-held land and resources, where for example efforts to provide ongoing productivity shaped arable farming, gardening, arboriculture, animal husbandry, and other agrarian practices. Other approaches to the larger topic of preindustrial sustainability are also welcome.

Those interested should send proposals of 250 words or less as soon as possible, and not later than May 24th, to both Abigail Dowling ( and Richard Keyser (

CFP Earth, Air, Water & Fire sessions at Kzoo 2016

ENFORMA would like to announce that we have received four (!) sessions for the 2016 Kalamazoo International Congress on Medieval Studies (12-15 May 2016). We are looking for presenters from across the spectrum of medieval studies for sessions organized around the medieval elements: Earth, Air, Water, and Fire.

Hopefully each session will involve cross- and trans-disciplinary connections. This elemental organization encourages both a focus on medieval understandings of the world (rather than just modern ecological ones) and a creative re-arranging of some of the traditional ways of grouping sessions. For example, a paper on medieval water management could now productively share session space with a paper on medieval religious ideas about water as a purifying agent. So in addition to environmental historians, we invite religious scholars, literary scholars, art historians, and others who are actively connecting their own work to that of the increasingly deep and relevant field of medieval environmental history to propose papers.

ENFORMA and the environmental history sessions have a long history at the Medieval Congress, and a presence that is increasingly visible and valuable. In 2013 our two sessions each had over 40 people in attendance (standing room only!). Eager to encourage a wider conversation about how environmental history matters to medieval studies, we are not pre-filling sessions, and open them to all interested parties. Information on the requirements for application will be available through the International Congress website (

Contact Ellen Arnold (Ohio Wesleyan University) directly at with questions and proposals. Proposals are due to Ellen no later than 15 September 2015.

CFP: Panel on Monasteries & Environment at ESEH2015

Chantal Camenisch (University of Bern) intends to submit one or two panels on “Monasteries and Environment” for the ESEH conference in Versailles, France (30 June – 3 July 2015). You will find more information about the planned panel in the abstract below.

We invite you to send your abstract (200 – 300 words, including the name, title, affiliation and email address of the presenter(s)) no later than 20 September 2014 to

For further information on the ESEH 2015, see

Panel Abstract

From the Early Middle Ages through the Modern Period, monasteries have played an important role in European environmental history. Depending on their religious order, the monks sought places in the wilderness near forests or floodplains. Monks cleared forests to obtain cultivated land, and they established field rotations systems. Therefore, monasteries shaped landscapes. Fish ponds were maintained in these places in order to feed the monks during lent. To maintain these fish ponds, elaborate techniques of water use were established and, for the purpose of food production and gaining medicine, the monks planted vegetables and herbs in gardens.

In addition, monasteries were places where the written tradition survived during the Migration Period and in the Early Middle Ages. The monks wrote chronicles on everything important to the monasteries where they lived, including weather anomalies and natural disasters. Later they wrote weather diaries. Written evidence of the perception of nature and the environment have also survived from the early Middle Ages.

This panel aims to trace the activities emanating from monasteries that led to changes in the environment and includes all continents and all epochs, in effort to answer the following questions: What were the reasons for the many interventions into the environment? Which methods did the monks (and nuns) apply for that purpose? How did the monks understand nature and the environment through the centuries? What sources can be used for researching these topics?

Possible topics include but are not limited to

–       Deforestation and land reclamation by monasteries

–       Concepts of landscaping used by different orders

–       Maintenance of gardens in monasteries

–       Maintenance of fish ponds

–       Techniques of water use

–       Innovations and techniques in land use

–       Forest exploitation by monasteries

–       Natural disasters and hazards hitting monasteries

–       Weather observations in monasteries

–       Resource conflicts

–       Perception of environment and nature in monasteries

ENFORMA at Kzoo2014

ENFORMA is sponsoring two sessions at the upcoming International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan, 8-11 May 2014. These are:

Medieval Environments I: Disasters
(Session 401 in Schneider 1125)
Presider: Ellen F. Arnold

Epidemics, Epizootics, and Famine in Ireland, 500–800 AD, Michelle Ziegler, St. Louis Univ.

Volcanic Events and European Climate Extremes, 670–730 CE, Conor Kostick, Univ. of Nottingham

The Beginning of the End: Sheep Panzootics and Fortunes of Wool Industry in
England, 1250–1330, Philip Slavin, Univ. of Kent

Medieval Environments II: Resource Exploitation
(Session 456 in Schneider 1125)
Presider: Richard C. Hoffmann, York Univ.

Philip II Augustus and Woodlands: The Relationship of Politics, Economics, and
Woodland Management, Kathryn E. Salzer, Pennsylvania State Univ.

A Long Durée Peace out of Captivity: Medieval Church Reform from Practice
to Ideologyee of Legislation: Firewood Collection and Usage in Medieval and
Early Modern France, Richard Keyser, Univ. of Wisconsin–Madison

Strategies and Ecologies: Hunting in Northern and Central Italy between 1300
and 1500, Cristina Arrigoni Martelli, York Univ.


Medieval EH at 2014 Conferences

The next American Society for Environmental History conference will be in San Francisco (USA) 12-16 March 2014. Unfortunately, premodern environmental history is woefully underrepresented on the program, with only one paper mentioning the medieval period in the title: Maïka De Keyzer, The disappearance of the tragedy of the commons. Sand drifts and collective action during the Late Middle ages in the Campine area, Southern Low Countries (on Panel 5-G).

Luckily, the 2nd World Congress for Environmental History in Portugal 8-12 July promises to make up for the ASEH’s paltry offerings. A review of the draft program yielded the following presentations on medieval environmental history:

8 July

Session: Wetland Cultures

Jim Galloway, Wetlands and Woodlands: Interactions around the Thames Estuary (SE England) in the Middle Ages

9 July

Session: Aquacultures: Promises, Practices, Problems, I

Richard C. Hoffmann, Domesticating Common Carp in Medieval Europe

Session: Comparative Fisheries

Antonio M. Teixeira & Cristina Brito, Digging into our Whaling Past Portugal (Mainland) as a Former Whaling Nation

Session: Coping with Pests

Elina Gugliuzzo & Giuseppe Restifo, Locust Invasions and Climatic Factors in the Mediterranean

Session: European Animals — Real and Imagined

Rob Lenders, “An Hund Wildra Horsa and Sextene Tame Hencgstas” – The Myth of wild Horses in Medieval Europe

Hannele Klemettila, “Qu´on ne les Tuast pas Faussement”. Gaston Fébus on the Decline of Wild Life at the End of the Middle Ages

Session: Changing Views of Primates

Catarina C.N. Casanova & Cecília Veracini, Animal Distribution in Guinea-Bissau and how Non Human Primates Were Perceived in the 16th and 17th Century Chronicles: From Anatomical Descriptions to Tool-use Behaviour

Session: Program Committee Selection

Francis Ludlow, The Environmental Contexts of Subsistence Crises, Mass Mortalities and Social Conflict in Ireland, 425-1649 CE

Session: Ligurian Landscapes: 20 Years of Interdisciplinary Case Studies

Charles Watkins, Ross Balzaretti & Diego Moreno, Historical Rural Landscapes in the Apennines and Climate Changes

10 July

Session: Fueling Pre-modern Economies: Energy Production and Consumption before the Industrial “Revolution”

Rick Keyser, Wood for Burning: Firewood Production and Collection in Medieval France

Session: The Socio-political Leverage of Extreme Weather Events in Late Medieval Europe

Martin Bauch, More than Divine Wrath – Perception of Extreme Weather Events in Late Medieval Italy

Thomas Labbé, “Toute Chose se Desnature”: Environmental Changes of the 14th Century from the Perspective of Contemporary Witnesses (c. 1330-1400)

Linnéa Rowlatt, Some Religious Perceptions of Nature in Late Medieval Alsace

Session: Ways as a Means of Space Exploration

Irina Konovalova, Route Data as a Tool of Describing the World in Islamic Geography of the Ninth and Tenth Centuries

Tatjana N. Jackson, Ways (Vegar) of Medieval Scandinavians

Galina Glazyrina, The Way as a Representation of Moral and Ethical Transformations in the Icelandic Sagas

11 July

Session: Poster Presentations

Pavel Raska & Vilem Zabransky, A Central-European Perspective on the Learning-through-the-Past Paradigm in Disaster Studies

Renata Pavelkova Chmelova & Jindrich Frajer, Extinct Ponds in tbe Czech Republic

Session: Urban Farming throughout History – Part 1: More than Shovels, Henhouses and Seed: Urban Farming as a Promoter for Structural and Cultural Change from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century

Dolly Jørgensen, Foul Fowl: The Challenges of Keeping Birds in Medieval Urban Spaces

Chantal Camenisch, Cabbage, Beans and Apples: Agricultural Production within the City Walls in the Western Part of the Swiss Confederacy during the Late Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period

12 July

Session: Marine Cultural Environments

Eva Panagiotakopulu, Medieval Cultural Landscapes: Interaction and Subsistence in the North Atlantic Region

Session: Changing Coastlines. The Impacts of Human Activities in Coastal Zones

Maria Rosário Bastos, Olegário Pereira, Sérgio Rodrigues, João Pedro Tereso, & João Pedro Ribeiro, Vegetation in the Portuguese Coastal Interface in a Broad Diachronic Perspective. Case Studies from the West Coast, near the Aveiro Lagoon

Session: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Pestilence, War, Famine and Death

Richard D. Oram, Timor Mortis Conturbat Me: Death and the Scots c.1350-1500

Alasdair D. Ross, Verus Valor: A Mid-14th Century Scottish Reaction to One or Two (or all) of the Four Horsemen?