“From Common Ownership to Private Property—and Back?”

“From Common Ownership to Private Property—and Back?” is an Emmanuel Centre seminar with environmental historian Dr James Boyce. The seminar will be held on Friday 2 March and run from 12 noon till 2pm in the Riverview Room at Emmanuel College, and will include a free lunch.

Please RSVP for the event here.


Global action that seeks to address the pressing need to meet global environmental challenges is often stymied by our prevailing legal and political structures that define national sovereignty and corporate and private ownership. Within our own British history, older landcare structures governing ‘the commons’ may provide us with useful resources to re-think our present situation. Looking at the history of the draining and enclosure of the commons that were the Fenlands of eastern England, Dr Boyce will look at how those commons used to work, what was lost, who was effected, and how the commons were closed. He will explore parallels between the enclosure of the commons with how Australia was settled, displacing complex indigenous structures of common ownership and landcare with British colonial conceptions of the coercive state and private land ownership. The seminar will mainly unpack the social and environmental histories of the impact of shutting down common ownership in the Fenlands and colonial Australia, but we hope to also discuss what we might be able to retrieve from our older common lands heritage that might be re-worked in the context of the need for global environmental care in our times.


James Boyce is a Research Associate in the Discipline of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Tasmania. His first book, Van Diemen’s Land, was described by Tim Flannery as ‘the first ecologically based social history of colonial Australia’ that was a ‘must read for anyone interested in how land shapes people’. 1835: The Founding of Melbourne and the Conquest of Australia, that reimagined the cultural and legal context for the conquest of the continent, was the Age Book of the year in 2012. More recently, Born Bad: Original Sin and the Making of the Western World, has been published to wide acclaim in the US and the UK.  Dr Boyce is currently completing a book on the history of resistance by commoners to the drainage and enclosure of the English fenlands.

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