Conference 'Sustainable Pasts, Resilient Futures'

Download the programme here.


The last half-century has seen a growing awareness and understanding of how economic security and prosperity is contingent on a flourishing natural environment. Industry, finance, and agriculture are interconnected in a complex web that ranges well beyond their immediate spheres. It is now well recognised that this web encompasses the whole of the natural world. From the first UN Climate Change conference (Berlin 1995) to the latest COP26 in Glasgow (2021), it has been widely understood just how modern economies are deeply imbedded in their natural environments. Climate change is no mere economic externality nor is it regionally specific. It is directly impacting. And it affects global populations in very direct ways, from food production to global investment-decisions. The knowledge of humanity’s interconnectedness with nature, and the growing human costs of environmental degradation, is widely perceived to be new. In fact, it has a long history. The aim of this workshop, and the international research network we hope will arise from it, is to recover the connected history of local, national, regional, and international thought and institutional practice on questions relating to the character and place of nature and science and technology in the political economy of European nation states and their colonial empires. The workshop will focus largely, but not exclusively, on the period from 1750 to post-1945. It will assess how far, and in what ways, ideas about nature shaped and were shaped by scientific and expert knowledge, how that knowledge, and experts armed with it, informed the legal norms of the European political economy and how it was contested. Discussants will assess the role experts, the character of expertise, networks of knowledge exchange, explore connections between networks, and ask how far European-based networks generated ideas and legal norms that informed (or silenced) environmental rights discourse nationally, and internationally. It will explore how far 18th and 19th-century European political thought and institutions shaped international institutions established in the early 20th-century that became foundational to modern environmental and economic governance. It will reveal paths that were taken and paths that were abandoned and examine the consequences of these histories for our world today.


Prof. Laurent Brassart, Université de Lille.

Prof. Patricia Clavin, Worcester College, Oxford.

Dr Michael Drolet, Worcester College, Oxford.

Prof. Judith Rainhorn, Université de Paris (Sorbonne)

In Association with:

Maison Française, Oxford

Oxford Centre for European History

Centre Marc Bloch, Berlin

Oxford Martin School (Future of Food)