Book Series Environmental Histories of the North Atlantic World, vol. 5

‘With Our Backs to the Ocean’: Land, Lordship, Climate Change, and Environment in the North-West European Past

Essays in Memory of Alasdair Ross

Richard Oram (ed)

  • Pages: xii + 326 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Illustrations:1 b/w, 5 col., 7 tables b/w., 2 maps b/w, 1 maps color
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2023

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-59699-0
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-59701-0
  • E-book
  • Available


“Overall, these essays show that Alasdair Ross kept good company. They also provide a testimony to the success of the Centre for Environment, Heritage and Policy at Stirling in developing its research agenda. Its work covered standard themes of environmental history like woodland management and the impact of climate change but, as these essays show, and as Ross’ own published work shows, it embraced a much wider range of issues.” (Robert a. Dodgshon, in Agricultural History Review, 72/I, 2024, p. 121)


The editor, Richard Oram, is Professor of Medieval and Environmental History at the University of Stirling. A member of the North Atlantic Biocultural Organisation, he has published widely on energy transitions and mortality crises over the last millennium in Scotland and the North Atlantic region.


This collection of ten essays celebrates the life and career of Dr Alasdair Ross, one of Britain’s foremost environmental historians, who died in 2017. Inspired by Ross’ own research interests, the chapters gathered here explore interlinked themes of land management and property rights, terrestrial and aquatic resource exploitation, mortality crises, and environmental change, viewed largely through the lens of the Scottish experience within the broader context of the eastern North Atlantic region and covering a chronology that spans from the sixth century CE up to the present. Including a previously unpublished paper by Ross himself, which overturns long-held perceptions of fiscal regimes in medieval Scotland, the contributors present radically revisionist or wholly new analyses of key documents and datasets, mostly through applying an interdisciplinary ‘environmental turn’ to primary record and narrative sources, or advancing new methodological approaches to systems analysis. From saintly interactions with nature to monastic exploitation of natural resources, charter records of land-ownership to the physicality of the landscapes recorded on parchment, and the human cost of subsistence and mortality crises, these papers humanize the discourse around historical climate and environmental change.


List of Illustrations


Introduction: Alasdair Ross and the Environmental History of Medieval and Early Modern Scotland
Richard Oram

Saints on the Shore: Coastal Encounters in the Early Medieval West
Ellen Arnold

Verbalist Ingenuity’ and the Evidential Basis for Virgin-Soil Smallpox Epidemics in the Sixth Century: From Iona to Ṣanʿāʾ
Timothy P. Newfield

‘Away was sons of alle and brede’: The Decline of the Medieval Climate Anomaly and the Myth of the Alexandrian Golden Age in Scotland
Richard Oram

A Post-Plague Golden Age? Scotland, Antiqua Taxatio, and Thirteenth-Century Climate Change
Alasdair Ross

‘To the abbottis profeit’: The Cistercian Abbey of Coupar Angus and the Scottish Export Economy
Victoria Hodgson

A New Theoretical Approach to the Study of Medieval Scottish Park Emergence and Resource Management
Kevin Malloy

From Kestrels to Foul Marshes: Light on a Parish in the Merse c.1200
Simon Taylor

The Tale of Two Wandering Charters: Towards the Political and Environmental Background of the Mac-Dòmhnaill-Mhic an Tòisich Alliance in the 1440s
Philip Slavin

Salmon Variability Related to Phases of the Little Ice Age: Consilience from Arctic Russia to Scotland?
Richard C. Hoffmann

Pathos and Poverty: Fuel Economies of the Poor in the British Isles in the Late Medieval and Early Industrial Periods
Ian D. Rotherham

Works Cited