Floods, drought and human-environment interactions in the writing of the Welsh diaspora in the new geographical frontier of Patagonia

Type Paper
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 30 Aug 2013
Event2013 Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) Annual Meeting - 1 Kensington Gore, London, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Duration: 27 Aug 201330 Aug 2013

Conference

Conference2013 Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) Annual Meeting
Abbreviated title2013 RGS-IBG
CountryUnited Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
CityLondon
Period27 Aug 201330 Aug 2013
OtherNew Geographical Frontiers
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Abstract

In a future of uncertain climatic conditions, possibly characterised by more frequent extreme events, ephemeral sources (letters, newspapers, literature) may provide an insight into how historical societies perceived and adapted to their environments, and this may inform strategies of adaptation. Writings of the Welsh colonists of Patagonia, Argentina (1865-present) provide an opportunity to analyse interfaces between people, culture and their environment as they were forced to adapt to unexpected climatic extremes in a new geographical frontier. Preliminary results from archival research highlight the importance of historical contingency and culturally-conditioned memories as the first settlers perceived the new landscape in the context of the environment of Wales with which they were more familiar (e.g. ‘similar to that which I have seen in Wales’) and with Welsh mythology (e.g. the flooding of Cantre’r Gwaelod). Binary human-river relationships are clearly evident; flooding was particularly prevalent in the crucial early years immediately following colonisation and at the turn of the twentieth century but the harnessing of rivers for irrigation enabled the establishment of a flourishing agricultural community. The significance of water, both at the time and in subsequent decades through the inherited memories of the descendants of the original colonists, led to the formation of a hydrographic society.