Report: Workshop Water (un)Safety and Concepts of Nature

On the 21st of March 2019, the workshop Water (un)Safety and Concepts of Nature was held at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. The event was a collaboration between the Environmental Humanities Center and the Vereniging voor Waterstaatsgeschiedenis (Society for Water History). Both parties are concerned with the ambiguous relationship between our society and water. On the one hand, we need water to survive, not only the human species, but the whole planet, and on the other hand, water can be a threat to our security when there is too much or too little of it. This year’s Water Symposium included talks on the latter topic of the threat that water can bring.

The early afternoon session consisted of presentations by Dutch water historians from different stages in their academic career. The audience was first introduced to VU student Gijs Bartels, who presented a case study of the 1960 flood in Amsterdam Noord. Then, prof. dr. Lotte Jensen showed how the Dutch expressed their anxiety in flood songs at multiple times in history. After a short break, PhD candidate Francien van den Heuvel talked about the flood relief in the Den Bosch area in the 18th century and Dr. Toon Bosch presented a transnational perspective to the 1925/1926 floods. For laymen, these case studies gave interesting insights into the flood history of The Netherlands, and for the many water experts present they provided matter for discussion.

After the break, the English part of the event commenced with a presentation by VU student Alida Jones. Alida gave a visually pleasing presentation about her goal to educate her high school students about the aftermath of the 1916 flood in their own hometown Andijk. Following up, dr. Eva Jakobsson presented her research into the Swedish lake Vänern. The Symposium was closed by PhD candidate Leonoor Borgesius, who presented on notions of time in the scientific policy of the reclamation of the IJsselmeer Polders.

The event concluded with drinks in The Basket, where presenters and members of the Society for Water History had the opportunity to share ideas about the concepts and case studies presented today. An intergenerational day of networking!

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