New lives, new landscapes: rural modernism in 20th century Britain

RHN 84/2019 | Event

Organisers: Institute of the Humanities, Northumbria University, in association with the British Academy

1-2 August 2019, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK


New lives, new landscapes: rural modernism in 20th century Britain

Professor Matthew Kelly, Northumbria University
Dr Ben Anderson, Keele University
Dr Katrina Navickas, University of Hertfordshire
Dr Iain Robertson, University of the Highlands and Islands
Linda Ross, University of the Highlands and Islands
Dr Ian Waites, University of Lincoln

The post-1945 decades witnessed technological innovation and expansion. New networks of energy, communication and leisure facilities were established, often by a dirigiste state. These changes are usually associated with urban modernities, but much of the new infrastructure necessitated by these developments was located in rural environments.

How were twentieth-century rural landscapes 'modern' or 'modernist'? What social, economic, political and cultural effect did this new infrastructure have on the ‘rural’? These are timely questions, for such structures are being decommissioned or fast becoming redundant just as a new and highly contentious rural modernity of wind-farms, solar panels and natural gas extraction is rapidly developing. In no small way do current debates mirror past controversies.

By bringing together scholars working on rural landscapes and societies from across the humanities, this conference will take a cross-disciplinary approach to questions directly relevant to current debates about planning, preservation and the environment.



Day 1: Thursday 1 August 2019

Registration and refreshments

Professor Matthew Kelly (Northumbria University)

Session 1: Energy
Linda Ross (University of Highlands and Islands)
Nuclear modernity: countering the Highland narrative

Dr Marianna Dudley (University of Bristol)
New power generation: the development of renewable energy in post-war Britain

Dr Grace Millar (University of Wolverhampton)
‘The deliberate, premeditated murder of an industry’: modernisation and campaigns against pit closures in the nationalised British coal industry, 1947-1994


Session 2: Sight/Site
Professor Clare Griffiths (Cardiff University)
Scenic modernity? Cooling towers, aesthetics and the English landscape

Jeremy Goffin (University of Lincoln)
The impact of surfing on coastal environments, through the lens of a wave

Dr Moa Carlsson (Edinburgh)
Brokering rurality: computer aided visions of the postwar industrial landscape

Lunch and posters

Session 3: Heritage
Francesca Church (University of Reading)
Enlarging the canons of beauty? Rural modernism and the CPRE in postwar England

Dr Iain Robertson (University of Highlands and Islands)
‘Heritage from below’: rural modernism and the curious case of the Hebridean wind farms

Professor Paul Readman (Kings College London)
Martial landscapes: modernity, the military and the past in 20th century Britain

Session 4: Crafting
Professor Kristin Bluemel (Monmouth University)
Modern impressions: print culture, rural change, and the 1930s wood engraving revival

Professor Ysanne Holt (Northumbria University)
Crafting the borders: ‘craft revival’ from the 1970s in the Anglo-Scottish borderlands

Professor Karen Sayer (Leeds Trinity University)
Producing farm recreation: landscapes of modernity and amenity

End of first day of conference


Day 2: Friday 2 August 2019

Registration and refreshments

Session 5: Landscape
Dr Katrina Navickas (University of Hertfordshire)
Amenity and modern structures: The Southern Pennines, c. 1950-70

Dr Ian Waites (University of Lincoln)
The post-war British power station as rural picturesque ornament

Dr Otto Saumarez Smith (Warwick)
The shifting meanings of derelict landscapes in 1970s planning documents


Session 6: Mobilities
Dr Ben Anderson (Keele University)
Landscaping for leisure: mountain biking as an inscription

Dr Sian Edwards (University of Winchester)
‘Bright lights on the horizon’: modernity and the rural teenager in post-war England

Professor Peter Merriman (University of Aberystwyth)
Motorways and modern Britain: mobility, rurality and ephemeral heritage

Lunch and posters

Session 7: Round table
Dr Rosemary Shirley (Manchester Metropolitan University)
Professor David Matless (University of Nottingham)
Professor William Whyte (St John’s College, Oxford)


Session 8: Next steps

End of conference