River of Many Voices: Oral and Environmental Histories of the Severn

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book


This paper explores ways in which oral history can inform environmental history research into human-environment relationships. It argues that valuable environmental knowledge resides in communities which remain largely outside the attention of the written archive. Through oral recordings, nuanced narratives that recognize, and retain in themselves, particularities of place can be created. The paper focuses on a case study of a community of surfers on the lower reaches of the River Severn, where a tidal wave, or ‘bore,’ periodically surges upriver. It uses archival documentary records and a recent interview with a group of surfers, to extend our understanding of recreational engagement with the river wave into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. By tracing continuities in this history, it recognizes the dynamism of the river as a historical agent, and asserts the surfers as river stewards whose deep knowledge of place is an important resource for present and future understandings of the Severn environment. It also suggests that oral historians can usefully broaden their definitions of oral sources to pay attention to environmental sounds and more-than-human ‘voices’. Through a discussion of sensory environments and natural agency, it hopes to provoke more work at the intersection of oral and environmental history.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTelling Environmental Histories
Subtitle of host publicationIntersections of Memory, Narrative and Environment
EditorsKatie Holmes, Heather Goodall
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9783319637723
ISBN (Print)9783319637716
Publication statusPublished - 12 Dec 2017

Publication series

NameWorld Environmental History
PublisherPalgrave MacMillan


  • oral history
  • environmental history
  • rivers
  • surfers
  • severn
  • tidal bore


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