The Shifting Sands of the North Sea Lowlands: Literary and Historical Imaginaries, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Shifting Sands of the North Sea Lowlands

Literary and Historical Imaginaries, 1st Edition

By Katie Ritson


170 pages | 4 B/W Illus.

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Global seawater levels are rising and the low-lying coasts of the North Sea basin are amongst the most vulnerable in Europe. In our current moment of environmental crisis, the North Sea coasts are literary arenas in which the challenges and concerns of the Anthropocene are being played out.

This book shows how the fragile landscapes around the North Sea have served as bellwethers for environmental concern both now and in the recent past. It looks at literary sources drawn from the countries around the North Sea (Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and England) from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, taking them out of their established national and cultural contexts and reframing them in the light of human concern with fast-changing and hazardous environments. The six chapters serve as literary case studies that highlight memories of flood disaster and recovery, attempts to engineer the landscape into submission, perceptions of the landscape as both local and global, and the imagination of the future of our planet. This approach, which combines environmental history and ecocriticism, shows the importance of cultural artefacts in understandings of, and responses to, environmental change, and advocates for the importance of literary studies in the environmental humanities.

This book will be of great interest to students and scholars of the Environmental Humanities, including Eco-criticism and Environmental History, as well as anyone studying literature from the Germanic philologies.


"In evocative and moving prose, The Shifting Sands of the North Sea Lowlands takes us down rivers and along coasts, through mudflats, silt, and fenlands, to explore the remarkable littoral landscapes and literary imaginations of the North Sea Lowlands. In Ritson’s reading, these ever changing places and the diverse texts they have animated and inspired offer up an incredible richness of possibilities both for understanding our pasts and for crafting shared futures in this Anthropocene epoch."Thom van Dooren, Department of Gender and Cultural Studies and Sydney Environment Institute, University of Sydney, Australia

"Where does the Anthropocene tell its stories? And who are the storytellers? With the skill of a novelist and cutting-edge trans-disciplinary methodology, Katie Ritson finds the answers to these questions in the eloquent landscapes of the North Sea Lowlands, where sands and waters, nature and history, human creativity and ecological predicaments merge into one another. Vis-à-vis with the combined imagination of elements and literature, The Shifting Sands of the North Sea Lowlands is one of the best examples of how the environmental humanities can contribute to shaping the generous imaginaries we need in a time of shifting horizons."Serenella Iovino, co-editor of Environmental Humanities: Voices from the Anthropocene and Italy and the Environmental Humanities: Landscapes, Natures, Ecology

Table of Contents

Introduction. On the Edge of the North Sea 1. Against the Tide: Living with the North Sea 2. Conquest and Control: Engineering the Anthropocene on the North Sea 3. A Sense of Place in the Anthropocene: W.G. Sebald and East Anglia 4. Landscape as Palimpsest: East Anglia in British "New Nature Writing" 5. Causeways to the Past: Anthropocene and Memory in Contemporary Novels 6. Under the North Sea: Petrospectral Futures Conclusion. The Literary Imagination in the Environmental Humanities

About the Author

Katie Ritson is Managing Editor at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, LMU Munich.

About the Series

Routledge Environmental Humanities

From microplastics in the sea to hyper-trends such as global climate change, mega-extinction, and widening social disparities and displacement, we live on a planet undergoing tremendous flux and uncertainty. At the center of this transformation is human culture, both contributing to the state of the world and responding to planetary change. The Routledge Environmental Humanities Series seeks to engage with contemporary environmental challenges through the various lenses of the humanities and to explore foundational issues in environmental justice, multicultural environmentalism, ecofeminism, environmental psychology, environmental materialities and textualities, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, environmental communication and information management, multispecies relationships, and related topics. The series is premised on the notion that the arts, humanities, and social sciences, integrated with the natural sciences, are essential to comprehensive environmental studies.

The environmental humanities are a multidimensional discipline encompassing such fields as anthropology, history, literary and media studies, philosophy, psychology, religion, sociology, and women’s and gender studies; however, the Routledge Environmental Humanities is particularly eager to receive book proposals that explicitly cross traditional disciplinary boundaries, bringing the full force of multiple perspectives to illuminate vexing and profound environmental topics. We favor manuscripts aimed at an international readership and written in a lively and accessible style. Our readers include scholars and students from across the span of environmental studies disciplines and thoughtful citizens and policy makers interested in the human dimensions of environmental change.

Please contact the Editor, Rebecca Brennan ([email protected]), to submit proposals.

Praise for A Cultural History of Climate Change (2016):

A Cultural History of Climate Change shows that the humanities are not simply a late-arriving appendage to Earth System science, to help in the work of translation. These essays offer distinctive insights into how and why humans reason and imagine their ‘weather-worlds’ (Ingold, 2010). We learn about the interpenetration of climate and culture and are prompted to think creatively about different ways in which the idea of climate change can be conceptualised and acted upon beyond merely ‘saving the planet’.

Professor Mike Hulme, King's College London, in Green Letters

Series Editors:

Professor Scott Slovic, University of Idaho, USA

Professor Joni Adamson, Arizona State University, USA

Professor YUKI Masami, Kanazawa University, Japan

Previous editors:

Professor Iain McCalman, University of Sydney Research Fellow in History; Director, Sydney University Environment Institute.

Professor Libby Robin, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, Canberra; Guest Professor of Environmental History, Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm Sweden.

Dr Paul Warde, Reader in Environmental History, University of Cambridge, UK

Editorial Board

Christina Alt, St Andrews University, UK, Alison Bashford, University of New South Wales, Australia, Peter Coates, University of Bristol, UK, Thom van Dooren, University of New South Wales, Australia, Georgina Endfield, Liverpool UK, Jodi Frawley, University of Western Australia, Andrea Gaynor, The University of Western Australia, Australia, Christina Gerhardt, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, USA,□Tom Lynch, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, USA, Jennifer Newell, Australian Museum, Sydney, Australia , Simon Pooley, Imperial College London, UK, Sandra Swart, Stellenbosch University, South Africa, Ann Waltner, University of Minnesota, US, Jessica Weir, University of Western Sydney, Australia

International Advisory Board

William Beinart,University of Oxford, UK, Jane Carruthers, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa, Dipesh Chakrabarty, University of Chicago, USA, Paul Holm, Trinity College, Dublin, Republic of Ireland, Shen Hou, Renmin University of China, Beijing, Rob Nixon, Princeton University, USA, Pauline Phemister, Institute of Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh, UK, Sverker Sörlin, KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden, Helmuth Trischler, Deutsches Museum, Munich and Co-Director, Rachel Carson Centre, LMU Munich University, Germany, Mary Evelyn Tucker, Yale University, USA, Kirsten Wehner, University of London, UK

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / Europe / General
HISTORY / Modern / 20th Century
LITERARY CRITICISM / European / General
LITERARY CRITICISM / Modern / 19th Century
LITERARY CRITICISM / Modern / 20th Century
LITERARY CRITICISM / Subjects & Themes / Nature