Defining “the coast” is notoriously difficult. I tend to favor a broad, inclusive definition and always seem to fall back on John Stilgoe’s concise articulation: “Between deep sea and ordinary inland landscape.” I loved his provocative exploration of the Massachusetts coast in Alongshore and how his definition captures both the fluidity of the coastal environment and the importance of subjective experience to understanding it. Look out for a future post where we tease out some of the implications of that definition. But suffice to say that “the coast” reaches far beyond that ever-shifting line where water meets land.
I’ve recently been thinking a lot about what “coastal research” entails. Part of my postdoc involves facilitating collaborative “coastal” projects by folks from the hard sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Look across most universities and you see a whole bunch of folks studying the same space from radically different angles. What would happen if we got all those researchers in a room? What could be gained from putting an environmental scientist interested in barrier beaches, with a biologist interested in sea turtles, with a social scientist interested in beach tourism, with a coastal historian, with local activists and policy managers? I’d sure like to find out.
The biggest challenge to starting this trans-disciplinary conversation is identifying scholars across a university who are doing “coastal” work. Some of these researchers have a clear coastal research agenda with a strong funding streams and disciplinary support. Others working on what might be considered a coastal project don’t consider their work “coastal.” And some scholars doing self-identified coastal projects are working on the margins (pun intended) of their field. Take my discipline, history. “Coastal history” (a term I self-conscisously avoided when writing my dissertation for reasons not worth getting into here) is getting some traction due in large measure to the tireless work of Isaac Land, the Port Towns & Urban Cultures group out of the University of Portsmouth, and several others (hint: follow #coastalhistory to follow this growing conversation on Twitter). But many, many historians are doing work that could be categorized as “coastal” if we applied Stilgoe’s definition.
So how can we find scholars working on coastal projects? Their students. The “Coastal Research” badge (posted above) will be placed on every “coastal” project at tomorrow’s Student Scholar’s Symposium at the University of West Florida. A certificate will be awarded to the undergraduate judged to have the best coastal poster presentation. We hope to highlight coastal research being done by UWF undergraduates, encourage more coastal research (fingers crossed on a monetary award next year), and begin that trans-disciplinary conversation. Until then, I’m looking forward to judging the posters tomorrow!