From the mid-eighteenth century onwards, there exists a rich record of cultural engagements with places along the Atlantic littoral: responses in different cultural media by individuals drawn to the unique cultural and biological aspects of a unique maritime environment. The romantic period in particular sees a diverse range of such literary texts in the form of translations, original poems, tales and novels; as well as a significant body of sketches and paintings of sea and land. The enormous impact of the Great Famine on this coastline drew further attention to the area from writers, journalists, artists and illustrators. Later in nineteenth century, an important photographic record emerges, now preserved within the National Photographic Archive. Such texts capture information related to reefs, sea cliffs and vegetation; as well as representing such practices as farming, fishing and seal-hunting; and depicting historical processes including land use, work, family life and migration.
Writers, folklorists and painters who were drawn to Ireland’s south-west coast in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries encountered its particularities at a time before our modern division of the disciplines. In joining the research skills of a cultural historian with those of a marine biologist, the project promises to reconnect aspects of this maritime environment that are often disconnected in modern debates. In doing so, it responds to needs emerging from both humanities and science research: in the case of the former, the environmental humanities have posed urgent new questions about the scope and scale of human interactions with the environment as represented in literary and other texts; while in the case of marine biology, scientists are increasingly aware of the need to deepen and enrich their apprehension of marine environments via a more nuanced sense of the histories and cultures of these storied places.
By researching, analyzing and visualizing the complex history of cultural interactions with the marine environment in relation to conservation priorities, this project will help to inform decisions that determine the long-term future of West Cork’s unique coastline.