1/2 idea No. 27: Peter Scott + global history
By Jon Agar, on 9 August 2021
(I am sharing my possible research ideas, see my tweet here. Most of them remain only 1/2 or 1/4 ideas, so if any of them seem particularly promising or interesting let me know @jon_agar or email@example.com!)
I was at the Cambridge UL studying the archives of Peter Scott, the founder of the Wildfowl Trust and perhaps the leading public figure in conservation in the UK before the rise of David Attenborough, when I was struck by a remarkable aspect of his diary. He seemed to spend most of his time in the air. For example, in 1966-7 he was in Washington, Amsterdam (twice), London, Copenhagen, Marseilles, Brussels, Geneva (four times), Paris, Gothenburg, and Aldabra.
I wondered whether Scott might be an example of a new class of hypermobility opened up by the expansion of post-war air travel. If so, who else would be in this class? Would they have social features in common? Was there a hypermobile culture of encounters between members of such a group? What is the relationship between technologically-enabled hypermobility and changing international politics of conservation?
There’s a decent biography of Scott (by Elspeth Huxley), which focusses on his conservation work. There’s also a global history and biographical interest in transnational lives (see Desley Deacon et al’s edited collection of the same name). These would be secondary sources to engage. Scott’s archive, too, is voluminous – 7800 items. So plenty more to study.
I like the irony too of this aspect of the conservationist Scott, perhaps most well-known in the UK for his attention to establishing specific sites as wildfowl refuges (Slimbridge, Welney) and, more pointedly, the fact that these refuges were carefully designed (by ‘baiting’, ie attracting and feeding wild swans, geese and ducks, sometimes to other conservationists’ opprobrium) to keep flying creatures on the ground.