Professor Peter A Coates

M.A.(St.And), Ph.D.(Cantab.)

  • BS8 1TB

Personal profile

Research interests

Peter Coates is an environmental historian of the 19th and 20th century USA and UK, though his interest in the study of human relations with the rest of the natural world over time is not confined to these nations or to recent centuries.

He has written books on a variety of subjects – including an assessment of attitudes to nature in the western world since ancient time (Nature, 1998). He has also contributed an essay on wolf eradication in the US to The Massacre in History (1999) and an essay on nature and environment to A New Introduction to American Studies (2006). Animal history is a particular interest and he has written books  about American attitudes to introduced species of flora and fauna (American Perceptions of Immigrant and Invasive Species, 2007), a “bio-biography” of the king of fish (Salmon, 2006) and essays on sparrows and squirrels. He has published articles in journals such as Alaska History, Environmental History, Environment and History, Western Historical Quarterly, The Public Historian, Landscape Research, California History, Journal of American Studies and Progress in Physical Geography.

His most recent book is A Story of Six Rivers: History, Culture and Ecology (2013). He has served as the UK and Ireland representative for the European Society for Environmental History as well as a 4-year term on the executive committee of the American Society for Environmental History He also belonged to the editorial collective for the journal Environment and History for many years and continues to serve on its editorial board. In addition, he is a member of the editorial board for Routledge's Environmental Humanities series and Berghahn Books' series ‘The Environment in History: International Perspectives’.

He has been involved in various externally funded, place-based projects. He was Principal Investigator for a 3-year research project ('Militarized Landscapes in the Twentieth Century: Britain, France and the United States’) funded by the AHRC’s Landscape and Environment Programme (and partnered by the MoD's Environmental Support Team) that resulted in the edited collection Militarized Landscapes from Gettysburg to Salisbury Plain (2010) and also PI for the AHRC Research Network 'Local Places, Global Processes' He is also currently PI on three further AHRC projects:  'The Places That Speak to Us and the Publics We Talk With'. 'At the Core' (a project on the orchard heritage of the Quantock Hills (which also received funding from the Quantock Hills Sustainable Development Fund and Lady Edith Smythe Agricultural Research Station (LESARS bequest), and, most recently, on energy environments and fluvial landscapes in conjunction with colleagues at the universities of East Anglia and Nottingham ('The Power and the Water: Connecting Pasts and Futures' (October 2013 to September 2016). The Bristol strand of this project is studying the rivers Severn and Tyne. Outside partners he currently works with include Bristol Zoo, Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Service and Northumbrian Water plc. 

Research supervision

He has supervised a range of MA and PhD dissertations on aspects of environmental & landscape history (topics include wolves in North American national parks, nuclear power plants, atomic testing in the South Pacific, the management of federal lands in the American West, the British debate over GM foods, heritage trees, exotic creatures in Victorian Britain, the environmental impacts and dimensions of the Second World War in France, the environmental policies of the MoD, and the animal and social histories of Bristol Zoo [partnered by Bristol Zoo]). His current PhD students are working on the ss Great Britain, guano and the Tyntesfield estate, prison islands in the Croatian Adriatic and the environmental history of the River Severn (focusing on its estuary). He welcomes research proposals in any aspect of environmental history. Do feel free to make contact by e-mail to discuss research proposals (


In addition to environmental history, his teaching areas include (at undergraduate level) modern US history (particularly the 1920s and the history of immigration and ethnicity) and, at MA level, Public History. The modules 'Public history in theory and practice' and 'Making History Public' include sessions and placement opportunities with a range of external partners, including  BBC History Magazine, Icon Films, Arnos Vale Cemetery Trust and ss Great Britain.

Structured keywords and research groupings

  • Cabot Institute Water Research
  • Cabot Institute Natural Hazards and Disasters Research
  • Cabot Institute Environmental Change Research


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