August 6, 2013 – Do Coasts Have a Future?

John R. Gillis
Professor Emeritus of History, Rutgers University

DATE: August 6, 2013
TIME: 7:30 AM
LOCATION: Bangor Public Library


Abstract: Sea level rise is not the only threat to coasts around the world. In recent decades, disasters have been as much human as natural. Populations have surged to the edge of the sea destroying littoral habitats and inhibiting the ability of shores to repair themselves. The modern coast arose coincident with the emergence of the nation state. But, in this era of globalization, they have lost many of their functions and are more vulnerable politically and economically as well. I will explore this and other coastal issues.

About the speaker: John Gillis is a Rutgers University Professor Emeritus of History who resides for most of the year in Berkeley, California.  In the summer, he can be found on Great Gott Island, off Acadia National Park in Maine.

Gillis has written on the social history of age relations, marriage, and family in Germany and Britain, but recently has engaged with environmental history on a global scale.  His latest book, The Human Shore: Seacoasts in History, is now available from the University of Chicago Press.  It begins with the first humans to approach the shore, tracing coastal migrations around the world before turning to the ways that coasts and coastal people have figured in globalization over the past several centuries.  The book concludes with an assessment of the current crisis of coasts in the context of massive environmental and cultural change.

Gillis’ work is deeply influenced by the environmentalist Rachel Carson and the cultural geographer Yi-Fu Tuan.  As in his Islands of the Mind, Gillis is concerned not only with the material conditions of coasts, but with their cultural meanings.  He challenges the conventions of both maritime and territorial history which have treated coasts as belonging either to water or to land by showing they are ecotones, combining both elements, a unique environment that has produced a distinctive culture that is now threatened with extinction.

He has taught at Rutgers, Stanford, Princeton, and the University of California at Berkeley, and is a Life Member of Clare Hall, Cambridge.  Gillis has been a Visiting Fellow at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, and the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences at Uppsala University.  He is also a Fulbright Senior Scholar.