Gilbert White and everyday ecology


I feel very fondly for this article since it was finally something that draw on my personal feeling for ecological observation and rhythm. I wrote it whilst pregnant and my (and my daughter’s) growing body exerted its influence on how it developed. I was completely absorbed by the eighteenth-century natural historian Gilbert White and his extensive journals of nature observations of (mainly) his garden and environs in Selborne, Hampshire and was intrigued by how this modelled a kind of profound commitment to seeing, feeling, and archiving the non-human world. I used the Marxist theorist Henri LeFebvre’s idea of ‘rhythmanalysis’ to think about how the body is engaged in rhythm that is critically observant, and represents both a manifestation of and a crucial resistance to capital commodification. I connected White in this way to the slightly later protesting journalist and ‘ranter’, William Cobbett — seeing the two men converge in the tree that they both used their bodies to measure. This is an essay that attempts to understand everyday habits as deeply ecological.

The research for this was funded by a small grant from the Royal Society of Edinburgh, which I used to visit archives of eighteenth-century weather observations at the Meteorological Office library in Exeter, and in various places in London, and to see more of White’s archive in Hampshire.

Rhian Williams, ‘ Gilbert White’s eighteenth-century nature journals as “Everyday ecology”.Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment, 24(3), pp. 432-456

** Gilbert White’s diaries are kept at the British Library and have restricted access. This is an image of his brother Henry’s estate/farm ledger, also at the BL. Mss British Library ADD MS 43816

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