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Inspiring peopleGeorgina Endfield

Extreme weather: Learning
from shared experiences
Lead for Sustainable Societies
Georgina Endfield
You lead the Sustainable Societies Global Research Theme (GRT). What does this entail?

The role is a new one and part of the University’s new Research Strategy, so there is no precedent. I see this very much as a catalysing role, engaging people from across the University in high-profile research opportunities, ensuring Research Priority Areas (RPAs) are developed and marketed appropriately, identifying key opportunities for impact-related research within and across the RPAs.

A key part of this role is also to draw on the research excellence across the University to inform, shape and invest in research agendas and impact priorities, working in partnership to recognise and build upon the successes of the University, and ensuring talent is recruited, nurtured and retained, at all levels.

Exploring the history of extreme weather can help answer important questions
How does your work fit within the Sustainable Societies Global Research Theme (GRT)?

I think my own work speaks directly to this theme. My current research, into historical records of extreme weather and how different spatial and temporal contexts affected people, is funded under the AHRC’s Care for the Future: Thinking Forward through the Past theme. This is very much about sustainable societies. Through this kind of work we can come up with pertinent messaging about the past which may go some way towards benefiting future societies.

How would you explain your research?

My research is about making historical environmental and climatic concerns meaningful for contemporary society. For example, one of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded projects I lead, with colleagues at the universities of Nottingham, Aberystwyth, Glasgow and Liverpool, investigates how people in the UK have been affected by extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, frosts, hail and storms over recent centuries. The research also examines how individuals, communities and institutions responded to these events.

We are all affected by similar weather events today and these are possibly increasing in frequency and intensity with climate change. Exploring the history of extreme weather can help answer important questions: how did we cope with and respond to such events in the past? How did spatial and temporal context influence their impact and society’s ability to recover? What adaptations did people use and why?

What inspired you to pursue this area?

I’m fascinated by how we remember and record the past, how that information is passed down, and how we can use it today and into the future. Studying geography at university and researching environmental history has given me the opportunity to work across a range of disciplines to address these themes from a variety of perspectives and methodological approaches.

How will your research affect the average person?

My research seeks to demonstrate the importance of historical contingencies for understanding present environmental and climatic concerns. I investigate changing human responses to climate variability, including the recording and recollection of weather, and explore how social memory influences perceptions of resilience and vulnerability. These issues are central to societal wellbeing as extreme weather events are likely to increase in frequency and intensity in coming years.

Pursue what fascinates you and do research you genuinely want to do
What’s been the greatest moment of your career so far?

One of the most memorable ‘moments’ was at Kuruman, in the Kalahari, in the early 2000s, where I worked with Professor David Nash from Brighton University on the desert’s first climate reconstruction. We delivered a talk to schoolchildren at this former 19th-century mission station and our chronology drew on weather descriptions in 19th-century missionary correspondence, some of which had been written by missionary and explorer David Livingstone from that very location. It was quite a levelling experience.

What advice would you give to someone starting out?

Pursue what fascinates you and do research you genuinely want to do. Much of all our research is informed by real-world issues, shaped by funding calls and increasingly driven by the impact agenda, but I think there is also plenty of scope for curiosity-led research. That’s vitally important and why most of us enter into academia in the first place.

If you have an opportunity, try to take on some academic community roles. I’ve sat on the AHRC’s Care for the Future advisory group, been Honorary Secretary for Research at the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers, and President of the International Commission for the History of Meteorology. All have been time-consuming roles but they have allowed me to promote research opportunities, provided an opportunity to shape research agendas and to identify new research opportunities. It feels like a privilege. I would also say, with the benefit of hindsight: pace yourself, don’t take on too much, but if you do, make sure it’s a responsibility you are really passionate about.

What’s the biggest challenge for researchers in your field?

It is fair to say the funding landscape will continue to change. Securing funding is an incredibly competitive, frustrating and sometimes disappointing process. In that context, I would say be tenacious and really pursue an idea if you think it has potential.

How does being based at The University of Nottingham allow you to fulfil your research aspirations?

Nottingham has offered me a particularly supportive environment in which to pursue research. This includes offering infrastructural support and advice to help develop and pump prime research ideas and ‘speculative’ research, for developing capacity, or for pursuing large grants. I have always found the University’s research environment to be very collegiate, supportive and responsive. I have also most certainly benefited from working with very talented colleagues at all levels, and some exceptional early career scholars in particular. In my 17 years here, I have been fortunate to be able to engage with colleagues on projects across the breadth of my own discipline, but also beyond and this has been a very rewarding and inspiring experience.

Global Research Theme
Sustainable Societies

Read Georgina's full profile

Georgina Endfield is Professor of Environmental History and is lead for the Sustainable Societies Global Research Theme  at The University of Nottingham. She is President of the International Commission on the History of Meteorology and Editor of The Anthropocene Review.


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