Being Littoral


This page describes a new book project for 2021 onward. This is a book for a different audience than the other work on this iste, embedded in theory and policy rather than speaking directly to a wider readership. I’ve decided, however, to outline its content in detail here, because the more feedback, responses, and suggestions (for alterations to the framework, or for things I ought to read!) I can gather the better. Please feel free to get in touch at or on twitter: @david_gange.  

Being Littoral:  Rethinking Atlantic Britain and Ireland

Being Littoral proposes a radical new vision of British and Irish history by viewing past and present from the perspectives of communities whose experience has diverged wildly from the urban centres through which the island group is usually understood. These are the communities of Atlantic coastlines – Shaetlan, Scots, Gaelic, Irish and Welsh – whose existence has been defined by proximity to ocean and semi-detachment from terrestrial networks of cities, roads and rail.

The book’s primary purpose is to explore the strategies these regions’ activists, scholars, artists and community groups have taken, and can take in future, to challenge narratives that claim to speak for Britain and Ireland but in fact take urban and inland perspectives for granted. Drawing on local archives, print media and oral histories, the voices of these communities are placed front and centre throughout. One purpose of giving explicit statements of these strategies, in the voices of those who have made them, is to increase possibilities for their future development and expansion.

As well as exploring specific coastal histories, Being Littoral intervenes in debates about historical practice and the relationships between university-based historians and public histories. The uses of history on Atlantic coastlines demonstrate vividly the power of historical knowledge and narrative to transform communities. Yet these community approaches to histories of North-East Atlantic coastlines also cast light on fundamental problems with the way much British and Irish history has been conceptualised. These relate to the persistence of the nation state as the primary frame for historical writing, the predominance of cities as the sites in which historical meaning is made, and the continued privileging of narrative as a form of argument. These problems don’t just require us to challenge the details of existing interpretations, but to radically rethink how these histories are made.

Many of the resources for comprehending these problems come not from within British and Irish histories, but from traditions such as postcolonial studies, counter-mapping, indigenous island studies, seascape epistemologies, hydrofeminism, animal studies and the new materialism. This book asks, for the first time, what might be revealed by using theoretical perspectives developed to study Pacific islands, the Middle Passage, the Caribbean, Atlantic Canada and the Indian Ocean to inform interpretation of British and Irish coastal cultures. Being Littoral therefore brings British and Irish communities into conversation with theorists from coastlines around the world, exploring potential future strategies for combination and collaboration.

In these ways, Being Littoral shows that only by drawing on the full range of tools used to resist the dominant narratives of modern history can we generate visions of past and future that ring true on Atlantic shores, rather than allowing coasts to remain caveats in stories formed from nation states and capital cities. In challenging those singular stories, Being Littoral argues that flexible thinking with, and about, time and temporalities is the primary prerequisite for richer and more purposeful histories: eroding the singular threads of cause and effect in national narratives requires a wide range of approaches and attitudes to time.

Part 1 (20,000 words) establishes the major problems with current historical approaches, exploring the conscious and unconscious strategies by which Atlantic coastlines have been made marginal to urban narratives of Britain and Ireland; it then explores the way historians of other regions have conceptualised time to disrupt the linear arcs to which historical narrative so frequently conform. Part 2 (60,000 words) explores seven responses to the narrative marginalisation of coasts, ranging from simple counter-narratives, to diverse forms of embodiment and auto-ethnography, as well as the insistence that the past should be organised spatially rather than temporally. Most of these approaches are not ones that historians have used widely. They emanate instead from activists, artists, poets, geographers and theorists. Each chapter also asks how the approaches under discussion might be integrated into historical practice.

This project builds on the author’s The Frayed Atlantic Edge (Harper Collins, 2019), described by The Scotsman as ‘a major step towards a genuinely radical reimagining of the British Isles’, as ‘a literary triumph’ by the Times Literary Supplement and by The Economist as a ‘poetic and precise…argument for a different kind of history’. Where that book was a personal narrative of travel, Being Littoral is a theoretically-engaged and conceptually ambitious work of research that binds together local and global scales to rethink island histories and geographies. It builds this rereading of the North-East Atlantic on substantive archival research conducted from 2016-22, and is informed by the unique experience of having kayaked all these coastlines collecting community perspectives, building contacts and connections, and photographing landscape and heritage, in 2016-17.

In pursuing these themes the book has several characteristics that make it timely:

  1. It publicises the work of significant activists whose influence and exposure has so far remained local
  2. It explores ways in which current understanding of the islands and their history are problematically rooted in growth-based economics and the nation state
  3. It places the British and Irish Isles in a global frame, subverting the nation state as a unit of analysis
  4. It demonstrates the significance of ocean to human histories in ways that the historical profession is just beginning to become sensitive to
  5. It brings the radical epistemologies of indigenous theory, hydrofeminism, ecocriticism and recent developments in the postcolonial tradition to new audiences
  6. It brings together historical scholarship, theory and radical art practice in a wide-ranging and thoroughly interdisciplinary study
  7. It is the first book-length attempt to elaborate the full range of temporal approaches available to historians and activists in regions that have been marginal to national histories, blending analysis of existing work with strategies for action

Because Being Littoral correlates closely with the burgeoning global scholarship that recovers local knowledge, often by exploring indigenous ways of knowing, the case it builds has implications and audience beyond the British and Irish islands. It engages with scholarship on modern East and South Asia, the North West Atlantic, the Caribbean and Pacific Islands, all of which have produced concepts and interpretations that can help make sure this study of the coastlines of Britain and Ireland becomes part of a global conversation about the future of communities at the edge of land and sea.

Being Littoral:  Rethinking Atlantic Britain and Ireland

Part 1: Framing the Problem

 Chapter 1    The Centred City & Its Discontents                           (12,000)

Chapter 2    Time and the Historian                                              (8,000)

Part 2: Strategies and Solutions

 Chapter 3    Counter Narratives & Comuinn Eachdraidh                            (8,000)

Chapter 4    Deep Mapping: Time in Space in Connemara                          (8,000)

Chapter 5    Poetics & the Shaetlan Revival                                                  (8,000)

Chapter 6    Connective Stories & Fictive Borders                                        (8,000)

Chapter 7    Othering the Present: the Potential Histories of Cork & Kerry (8,000)

Chapter 8    Experience, Travel & the New Nature Writing                           (8,000)

Chapter 9    Embodiment: Hydrofeminism & Radical Water Writing           (8,000)

Chapter 10  Consequences                                                                             (6,000)