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University of Nottingham Dissertation Prize in Environmental History 2020

2020 Prize Winner: Jacob Ludlam

Thesis Title: The Cod Wars, 1958-1976: environment, conflict and memory

Receiving a prize like this is a huge honour for me. I completed my dissertation on the Cod Wars, which were a series of conflicts between Britain and Iceland over Icelandic fishing grounds. Iceland tried to claim sovereignty over their fishing grounds, which at the time they shared with Britain, an effort which they were ultimately successful in. 


The Cod Wars, although little known, are fascinating. For refusing to leave Icelandic waters, the Icelandic coastguard would ram British trawlers and cut away their gear, and the British Navy was required to 'police' the waters. Despite this, there were plenty of stories of potatoes being thrown at one another from ship to ship, swearing at each other and teasing over the radio, displaying a palpable sense of mutual respect. It was only when I read the majority of the current historiography (of which there was very little) that I realised all the current scholars discounted these stories, choosing to focus on the reasons for the conflicts and their international implications. I had found my angle, and I began my in-depth research. 


I was researching this new angle in an under-researched topic, arguing against dominant historical thought which asserted the trawlermens stories were subjective, not contributing to our understanding of the events. Principally, Gudni Th. Johannesson, a Cod War academic and lecturer out of the University of Iceland, argued this point. He also happened to be the current President of Iceland. I found an old university email address and sent him an email detailing my aims and interests for the project. To my surprise, I received a reply. He was very helpful, both in discussing my ideas and in providing material of relevance, for which I will be forever grateful. 



One of the first trawlermen I came across was Tom Watson, a skipper who both had his warps cut and disarmed an Icelandic Gunboat singlehandedly. He was very emotionally charged at having been ignored in the historical study thus far, and saw me as a way to tell his story. His account led me to theme of memory, specifically how memory changes over time. Heritage plays a big part in this, how communities take agency over their own memories, so the fishing heritage charity STAND in Hull, who have campaigned to enshrine Hulls fishing heritage, became of central importance to me. They hold annual remembrance days, have placed lost fishermen statues and have commissioned a garden project in the city, and when they agreed to meet me my research was helped immeasurably. Importantly, the Chairman and Vice Chairman of STAND were also trawlermen during the Cod Wars, so they too shared with me some of their incredible stories. They also gave me a guided tour of the Hull Fishing Heritage Museum, accompanied with coffee and cake afterwards, which of course was delightful.


Their stories showed that a dual consciousness of the Cod Wars existed. Firstly, there was still anger towards the events as they unfolded; they felt the Navy didn't help help them, that the government didn't care and that they were not listened to. Yet they also created a comedic narrative, focusing to recall this side of their history on a personal level. What didn't help that was since the Cod Wars, the distant-water trawling fleet in places like Hull had collapsed, to which the Cod Wars contributed. The trawlermen were left with no financial recompense, which infuriated the very men who felt they were never looked after int he first place. Using Hull as an example, I proved how the city had tried to hide its trawling past, with STAND being born to stop this process, trying to enshrine the trawling past into the future of the city. The heritage movement of STAND was a very successful attempt to preserve both sides of this consciousness, while taking control of the very memory the city had tried to remove. STAND produced Lieux de Memoire (spaces of memory) where the trawlerman's once supplanted identity eventually found its new home.  


Quite different to the vital work in environmental issues and conservation, I have secured a grad job as a prison officer in a youth offending institute. Reducing re-offending rates, especially in the key ages of 15-18, is incredibly important. I look forward to working in such a challenging yet rewarding environment. 


About the Prize

A Focus on Nature (AFON) is the network for young nature conservationists in the UK with over 3,000 members. This award seeks to recognise the outstanding contribution of one undergraduate student at the University of Nottingham to the growing discipline of Environmental History. The award will be presented at the end of each academic year.

Started back in 2012, AFON sponsored an annual Dissertation Prize in Environmental History at the University of Nottingham. The Prize is funded to run from June 2013 to June 2022.

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