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Environment and History

Borderland, No-Man's Land, Nature's Wonderland: Troubled Humanity and Untroubled Earth

Peter Coates

Environment and History 20 (2014): 499-516. doi: 10.3197/096734014X14091313617244

Building on an interest in the presence of biodiversity where we do not expect to find it, this essay ponders the irony that human strife can be beneficial for the rest of nature by investigating the coexistence of troubled humanity and untroubled nature at various places around the world. It also looks at efforts to formalise the protection inadvertently provided in conflict and no-go zones after human tensions have abated. Focusing on borderlands, militarised landscapes, shatter zones, forbidden zones and other sites of upheaval and trauma, mostly in post-1945 Korea, Germany, Eastern Europe and Cyprus (but beginning with the nineteenth-century American West), I investigate the notion of the serendipitous survival of other-than-human nature and the 'threat' of demilitarisation and normalisation in places such as the Iron Curtain zone, where civilian activities may be more invasive and disruptive than military practices and other forms of restricted access. A related subject is the more recent, post-Cold War tale of nature's preservation, de facto and formal, in former environments of strife that also functioned involuntarily as shelter zones. This involves engagement with a particular manifestation of the deep-seated belief in nature's therapeutic value. The theme of the natural world's reconciliatory properties is pursued with reference to peace parks and other forms of transboundary conservation. I conclude with a discussion of the relationship between the narrative of nature and the narrative of history, specifically the belief that they are mutually exclusive and that the new emphasis on the 'return to nature' involves an act of erasure.

KEYWORDS: Warfare, borderlands, militarised landscapes, transboundary conservation, Korean DMZ, European Green Belt, Chernobyl, Green Line, West Polesie


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