Deserts and the Modern World
About the Projects
Dr Robert Fletcher is currently engaged in two research projects, 'Britain and the Arid World', and 'The War of the Locust', exploring the intersecting histories of nomads, nations and empires in the world’s desert environments.
Both are funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council.
Britain and the Arid World
Through a two-year AHRC Leadership Fellowship, Dr Fletcher examines the multiplicity of ways in which the histories of Britain, its empire and the world’s deserts became entwined in the twentieth-century. While the British Empire is often seen as a quintessentially maritime power, few empires have dominated as much of the world’s arid zone as did the British in the twentieth-century. This project works to unearth the wealth of connections – political, administrative, military, economic, cultural and scientific – between Britain and the world’s desert environments, and to consider how far the act of bringing these connections to the fore might change our understanding of the chronology, dynamics and ideologies of the British Empire.
Arising out of Dr Fletcher’s previous work on British activities in the deserts of the interwar Middle East, this project aims to demonstrate the wider significance of the attempts to manage desert places and peoples for multiple states and empires in the history of the twentieth-century. This project is developed in close collaboration with the Royal Geographical Society and the Natural History Museum, and involves archival research in India, Australia and the United States; among its outputs is a study of “Decolonization and the Arid World” in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of the Ends of Empire.
The War of the Locust
A second project focuses in on a specific example of imperial and international activity in the desert: the remarkable campaign, over the course of the twentieth-century, to monitor and eradicate the desert locust. Outbreaks of the desert locust – Schistocerca gregaria – have plagued agricultural societies for millennia. How states have perceived and dealt with this threat has not only affected the livelihoods of generations of farmers and pastoralists; it has played an important part in the making and unmaking of states’ legitimacy.
The War of the Locust is a collaborative and interdisciplinary research project bringing together an historian (Dr Robert Fletcher, Warwick, Principal Investigator), a forensic entomologist (Dr Katherine Brown, Portsmouth), an ecologist (Dr Greg McInerny, Warwick) and an artist (Dr Amanda Thomson, Glasgow School of Art) to examine the record of one of the most prominent international efforts ever made to counter this threat.
Working through archival material and specimens held at the Natural History Museum, the project is of interest to a wide number of communities both inside and outside of academia, including historians of the Middle East; entomologists and students of climate change, food security and bioterrorism; scholars and practitioners concerned with the dialogues and frictions between science and policy; and wider audiences interested in how ‘migrants’, ‘pests’ and systems of control are represented.
A collaborative and interdisciplinary project, supported by an AHRC Science in Culture Developmental Award, the project also reflects upon the nature of interdisciplinary work itself. Among the project’s outputs are a series of workshops around the UK.
If you have been involved in anti-locust work, the team would be delighted to hear from you.