Environment Portfolio

Environmental change is among the great challenges of our age. We need the evidence-based insights only research can provide into its causes and effects on people, places and the natural world. Arts and humanities researchers and disciplines can offer unique and essential perspectives and approaches to understanding weather, climate change, and natural history, each with important implications for the way we engage people in caring for and protecting their environment.

How can the arts and humanities contribute to environmental research?

Arts and humanities disciplines contribute to our cultural understanding of the natural world in many ways.

  • They play a crucial role in raising awareness of environmental issues through their depiction in art, literature, and film.
  • They help us to find ways to better protect our natural heritage by understanding what spaces, such as cherished beauty spots, mean to us and why we value them.
  • They can reveal how people have adapted during previous periods of climate change and offer lessons for the ways we could live in the future.
  • They bring a unique contribution to interdisciplinary research which can enrich and contextual outcomes.
  • They play a vital role in providing robust evidence to help policymakers and politicians make informed decisions.

In all these different areas and more, the arts and humanities have shown they are acutely positioned to give us the tools – individually and as societies – to understand environmental change, how communities may adapt and be resilient in the face of it, and how we may better communicate the threats our planet is experiencing.

Spaces of Experience and Horizons of Expectation: Extreme Weather in the UK, Past, Present and Future

The project has involved a nationwide study of extreme weather, and people’s narratives about it. Drawing on hundreds of years of written descriptions of unusual weather events, as well as oral history, it explores the ways that people have understood, been affected by, and responded to climate variability and extreme events through time.

Research Achievements and Impact:

  • Contributed a section on flood history to the Research Strategy Plan for the Derwent Valley Mills UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Creation of a public database TEMPEST (Tracking Extremes of Meteorological Phenomena Experienced in Space and Time). The c. 20,000 records offer personalised and geo-referenced insights into the relationship between society and extreme weather in the UK spanning a period of over 400 years. This is a searchable tool of use to the public, educators and policy makers.

“From extreme weather, to climate change and ‘nature’ itself, the Arts and Humanities are uniquely placed to explore these connections, and the role of humans as embedded within – rather than separate from – the natural world.”

Rodney Harrison, Professor of Heritage Studies at UCL and
AHRC Heritage Priority Area Leadership Fellow

How has the AHRC funded research in the environment?

Since 2009 the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has made 89 awards to a huge range of pioneering and engaging research projects in this area, totalling £18.11m, and involving both Higher Education institutions and non-academic organisations.

The AHRC will continue to fund environment research through our responsive mode schemes and through targeted, strategic calls. We will work in partnership with other UKRI research councils to support collaborative and interdisciplinary projects and to identify new opportunities for arts and humanities researchers and disciplines to contribute to research related to the environment. Through this ongoing support arts and humanities research will continue to provide fresh insights into the challenges of climate change, environmental disasters, and extreme weather events, working with scientists and communities across the world.

To see some example case studies from all three areas (weather, climate change, and natural history) showing the value and impact of the arts and humanities on environmental research, please view the A Unique Contribution: Arts and Humanities Research and the Environment Booklet.