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The Parish Revolution: Parochial Origins of Global Conservationism

This research project aims to show how what the eighteenth-century naturalist and clergyman Gilbert White called 'parochial history' played a central role in the development of the science of natural history, the genre of nature writing, and the origins of modern conservationism.

During the course of the three-year project, funded by a Wolfson Research Professorship, I will examine the rhetorical structures and cultural history of clerical naturalism as it was practiced, written, and published in parishes between 1660 and 1859, both in the British Isles and British Empire, and by lay people, women, and colonised peoples as well as clergymen. The main focus will be on parish priests, but I will also look at ministers in the full range of churches found in the British Isles in this period.

Disseminating its findings through an interlinked scholarly monograph, trade book, and database, this project will demonstrate that clerical naturalists contributed substantially to the scientific knowledge that enabled nineteenth- and twentieth-century theories of ecology and evolution, popularised natural history as an activity and as a literary genre, and, by putting the local at the centre of a global movement, profoundly influenced the character of later conservationism.

This is an ongoing research project and these pages will be regularly updated.


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