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  • Christopher Currie

    • Labour would not appear cheap to the reeves, because at this period there would be little short-term fluctuation in cash wages: the real-wage fluctuations would presumably be price fluctuations (food, other necessaries: poor harvests→high prices). Since the rates, we are told above, were set by the Commissioners of Sewers, spending the money at these periods, even getting into deficit, would be a way for parish officers to relieve unemployment without increasing the poor rate. A check would be to see if highway surveyors’ expenditure fluctuated similarly. We’d need to know more about the social structure of the parishes – a few large occupiers employing wage labour, or many small occupiers (as in much of Fenland Cambs in 17th cent)?

  • John Morgan

  • John Morgan

    • That’s really interesting – fantastic that you have the data. The graph really shows how sanitation was involved in a wide-reaching set of systems, with many tangled factors influencing its development.

    • This is a fair point, and a criticism that has been leveled at definitions of the ‘socio-natural’ – it’s essentially so broad as to encompass all material things. I think its main strength is in foregrounding co-production. Floods have been characterised as ‘natural disasters’, and ‘nature’ has been at the heart of environmental history . It’s easy to forget human agency in discussions of environmental phenomena, and framing them this way helps overcome that.

      I find it useful to stress contemporaries’ understandings of flooding as ‘socio-natural’ because of the historiographical orthodoxy of ‘providential’ understandings of flooding. Floods were seen as more than ‘acts of God’, and highlighting contemporary understandings of human agency helps overcome this.

    • umetatachi is a fantastic word! Thanks for sharing that. It’s tempting to make wild speculations about etymology and divergent conceptions of the sea in England and Japan. It’s striking that one is essentially combative and normative (with regards to land), whereas the other appears to be much more neutral.

      As for the settlement and ‘reclamation’ of land in Lincolnshire. Most of the villages in the Lincolnshire fens had been settled by the end of the C13 Coastal marshland around the Wash was settled by Domesday. The coastline of the Wash continued to by pushed back into the sea after 1300. This reclamation was a real sore point in the C17, as the Crown asserted legal rights to new land without any satisfactory precedent. Some of it was the gradual accretion of silt and exploited in common, some was deliberately ‘warped’ or ‘inned’ by individual lords or substantial freeholders. The east coast (north of Skegness) saw coastal erosion from the later C13, as a series of islands off the coast were washed away, and the mainland shore left unprotected. In the C16 erosion here led to the destruction of some coastal buildings, including a chapel at Mumby (Caitlin Green has a good blog on this – http://www.caitlingreen.org/2015/05/drowned-villages-of-lincolnshire.html). Fen drainage was attempted sporadically throughout the C15 and C16, but was pursued most concertedly in the C17, when inland fenland areas were drained  (with varying degrees of success) to create land suitable for year round grazing and arable in the most successful areas. These areas continued to seasonally flood until the introduction of steam pumps in the C19.

  • paul.kreitman

    • Comment on About this site on December 1st, 2015

      If you are visiting this page in December 2015, there’s a high chance it’s in connection with my upcoming presentation at the IHR’s Director’s Seminar on Wednesday 9th December. You can find it here: “Attacked by Excrement: The Political Ecology of Shit in Wartime and Postwar Tokyo”.

      I also strongly encourage you to have a look at the work of my colleague and co-presenter, John Morgan of the University of Exeter: “Financing flood security in eastern England, 1567-1826″.

      We both hope very much to see you on Wednesday for what is sure to be a lively discussion!


    • You may be wondering why only a small portion of the total dissertation is available to view at present. The reason for this is that I plan to upload individual chapters to coincide with the various “real-world” workshops and conferences that I hope to participate in over the coming months and years. However if you are desperate to read the whole thing straight away, then please email me at paul.kreitman@gmail.com and I will gladly send you a pdf version.

    • nitrogen content of fert inputs

      Good question, and something I probably should have discussed in more detail. The short answer is, yes. Here is a graph showing fertilizer inputs in Japanese agriculture (measured in terms of nitrogen). As you can see they increase dramatically throughout the period, until collapsing during the Pacific War.

    • Good question. If you mean Culture with a capital C, my hunch is that it was not a particularly important factor. There seems to have been a broad consensus that, in an ideal world, excrement disposal would be modernized – the disagreement was simply over the cost. I found a nice quote from a famous essay on aesthetics written by a staunch advocate of Japanese traditional culture:

      “The solitary eccentric…can ignore the blessings of scientific civilization and retreat to some forsaken corner of the countryside; but a man who has a family and lives in the city cannot turn his back on the necessity of modern life – heating, electric lights, sanitary facilities – merely for the sake of doing things the Japanese way….

      “It turns out to be more hygienic and efficient to install modern sanitary facilities – tiles and a flush toilet – though at the price of destroying all affinity with ‘good taste’ and the ‘beauties of nature’.”

      – Tanizaki Jun’ichiro, In Praise of Shadows (1933)

    • Thanks for some great comments Ray, there’s a lot of stuff to think about here. Yes, I think you’re absolutely right that the ANT stuff could be threaded through the entire paper more consistently. And yes, in many ways this is a story that chimes with many other narratives of wartime/postwar state-society relations. I am in two minds as to how much I want to foreground that though – perhaps it risks seeming overly schematic?

      On two specific points: “toughs” was actually my translation of the term used in the newspaper account – perhaps I should make that more explicit As for photos of excrement, they are actually surprisingly hard to find! Although I did find this one of a night soil collector doing his rounds in Osaka…


      osaka night soil collector

    • Thanks Steve, this is a great photo! I’ve taken the liberty of embedding it here:

    • Yes, this something I could definitely expand upon. The politics of excrement in Osaka were rather different, as night soil collection continued to be performed by members of hereditary “outcaste” (burakumin) groups. I will check out the Hanes book, but my understanding is that the city government embarked upon municipalization of night soil collection (if not sewer construction) somewhat earlier than Tokyo did. But I am curious to what extent formal muncipalization actually entailed substantial continuities in terms of personnel and distribution routes. This might be something to explore in a larger project.

    • Yes, although I should say that this data ought to be taken with a healthy pinch of salt. It was compiled by the Ministry of Agriculture, and probably doesn’t include non-commercial or informally traded fertilizer products such as “green manure” gathered from hillsides. I am unsure whether these figures include night soil. My hunch is that they don’t – and even if they did, a national snapshot would not capture the unique particularities of peri-urban agriculture, where night soil was obviously in more plentiful supply.

    • Interesting…what kind of sources do they use to reconstruct mentalite? Is there a way to access flood mentalite using dikereeves’ financial accounts? If so that would be very cool.

    • This is test comment by Paul, as I haven’t read the whole paper yet. I will revise this when I have!

    • “It was the constant effort to prevent disasters, rather than disasters themselves that were then the motor of change.”

      This is an interesting question, but does it necessarily have to be framed in terms of either/or? Is it not possible to acknowledge the costly efforts made to shore up coastal defenses without diminishing the agency of the floods themselves?

    • “political and insurance policy decisions then taken on a cost-benefit basis.”

      When did flood insurance become widespread in England? If such financial products were already being sold during the period you study, they might serve as a useful source for recapturing contemporary understandings of flood risk.

    • Interesting – I will have to read up more on the Austrian school. As you can probably tell from my paper, I have attempted to come at more or less the same problem using an ANT perspective instead. But I suppose I am curious to know if there is anything which is NOT a “socio-natural site”? Or is the point rather that everything is socio-natural?

    • Having read this far, it feels like dikereeves are going to be key protagonists in your story. Perhaps if you redraft at any point, you could introduce them earlier?

    • [placing disastrous flooding back into the context of quotidian water management,]

      This is a great phrase – if this is at the core of what you are aiming to achieve then I think it is a fantastic project.

    • [allowed land to continue undefended]

      I can’t help but be struck by the parallels with my own research here. Seeing as you are working on such a “long duree” timescale, is it possibly worth elaborating on the long-term history of land settlement in Lincolnshire? Presumably much of the land had originally reclaimed from the sea at some point. How was this original reclamation financed, and did the legacy of these original (presumably  large-scale) drainage works persist in the way Lincolnshire fenland communities were organised? Were further reclamation efforts ongoing in the period you are looking at?  To what extent was drainage a defensive or an ‘offensive’ project?

      On a tangent, “land reclamation” is such a bizarre phrase. I have always suspected it has origins in Biblical flood theology. The Japanese term, umetatachi, is much more straightforward – it literally translates as “land that stands on sea”.

    • [This line s​hows that far more than tracking incidences of flooding, dikereeves’ expenditure in these four parishes displays an inverse correlation with real wages, which is particularly strong in the 1690s. It appears, then, that here it was broader economic problems that drove up expenditure on flood defences,]

      Interesting. I suppose from a contemporary perspective it feels intuitive to commission more infrastructure investment at a time when labor is cheap. But perhaps this would be crediting your dikereeves with too sophisticated an understanding of fluctuations in business cycles.

    • Ok, great. I’ve made some comments on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis, I hope they are of some help. I must say I am struck by the parallels in our research – even though we are working on topics that are so far apart in terms of time and place, it feels like we are wrestling with very similar sets of questions. Hopefully these will become clearer during the discussion on Wednesday.

    • Thanks Steve, that’s kind of you to say. And of course, no worries either way – it’s the end of term and everyone is rushed off their feet. But I hope you can make it on Wednesday,



  • Ray T

    • This does a really good job of covering a 50 year period in which a lot of shit happens. I love the quotations you use and found myself wondering if people/eco-warrior types use this history as a justification for reverting to an earlier period in which humans were in fuller communion with nature? I wonder why you leave the Actor Network Theory discussion to the very end? For me, it gave the impression that the agency of shit only became particularly noticeable at certain periods, and this case, after the war and before the Olympics. It seemed to sit somewhat awkwardly at the rear end of an otherwise traditionally chronologically unfolding account. But is that what you want to say, and where you want it to appear? Why not discuss it throughout the text, making clear the collisions between the various agents? Is the alienation of shit, with its burial in a network of underground sewers a reflection of a desire to escape the past, a canalization of troubled memories, including of course, the recent war. As a material, it seems different to Latour’s examples you cite here (engines, space shuttles) because it is so intimately related to the human body in a way that those examples are not. I think you could develop this tension more, perhaps by tying it to the excellent quotation from the man at the beginning who is forced to shit in his workplace and not at home. Agency in this example is distributed across a range of human and non-human actors – the wife and children and their own shit, the man who is displaced by their shit, the shit of the co-workers frustrating his relief, the shit that makes him move and alienates him from his family but also the shit that doesn’t get to choose where it lands, and the symbolism of the family under strain – the family that shits together stays together. I think the material culture of shit could be foregrounded to sustain this argument throughout. I’d also emphasize the ways in which people attempt to deny agency to shit at certain moments. Going back to the point about being alienated from one’s shit, you could discuss how it is immediately a historical artifact that historians should care about, containing within it the secret’s of one’s diet, health, sexuality etc. What does it mean to submerge that past and decouple it from the present and future, as happens when you move from using it as a fertilizer to simply treating it as a waste product (I really liked the discussion of its move from a commodity that was purchased by night soil merchants to one that people had to sell to them)? In general, I’d like to see footnotes on: were the night soil professionals from a particular caste or class and did that change over time? I know they were Korean during the war/immediately after — that seems significant. But what about at other times? Also maybe questionable to run with the use of ‘ruffians’ or ‘toughs’ to describe these people. Was there a simple party political division – the municipal council being controlled at different times by different parties? This seems to link with the notion of the expanding state in the immediate aftermath of the War, as with the British welfare state etc. Are you going to make that argument more forceful or reference it etc.? You compare it to Paris and London etc. but there is a quote about Tokyo being an embarrassment compared to other Japanese cities. Could you say more about Tokyo’s specificities compared with those cities (think it was Nagoya/Osaka)? Finally I think some photographs would be helpful particularly if shit was frequently experienced visually (you mention the banks of the river etc.) And perhaps something more on how it was smelled by the people? That said, I really enjoyed this and think you can expand outward from here on a topic the stakes of which you’ve made very clear.

  • Steve Ericson

  • tehila sasson

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