Stumbling upon water history

To round out the 2016 calendar year I will share the joy of stumbling upon random water history stuff during my work-related travels…

Putting this in context, hopefully you’ll have seen that as part of a refresh, we’ve recently updated our About page. There you can read that my water policy research and teaching is about half of what I typically do at the business school within the University of Manchester. The other part involves exploring ‘the influence of policy, funding and organisational conditions on how science is performed in the UK and Europe’.

For this latter line of research last month I was in Strasbourg, France, presenting work on ‘National Research Evaluation Systems (NRESs) and their impact on universities, researchers and research fields’. Soon this work will also involve critical analysis of the pervasive effects of the UK’s Research Excellence Framework on science. My fellow members of the international KNOWSCIENCE project team attended, as well as our funder, the Swedish Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, and the European Science Foundation kindly hosted us all.

Photo: Looking out at Strasbourg’s central train station.

Just beforehand a colleague showed me around Strasbourg. After hearing about my water work, a building he was keen to show me was this one:

Photo: Building of the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine, Strasbourg, France.
Photo: Building of the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine, Strasbourg, France.

This is the original building of the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine. My colleague described it as the world’s first international organisation; CCNR’s own website puts it very similarly as ‘the oldest international organisation in modern history‘, being ‘formally constituted‘ in 1815, with some precursor arrangements dating back to 1804. Nowadays CCNR’s role is ‘to address effectively all the issues concerning inland navigation‘ including ‘development of close cooperation with the other international organisations working in the field of European transport policy and with non-governmental organisations active in the field of inland navigation‘. (Or, as Wikipedia more succinctly summarises it, ‘to encourage European prosperity by guaranteeing a high level of security for navigation of the Rhine and environs‘).

This was a nice surprise… to stumble upon the world’s oldest international organisation, and it turns out to be water-related, involving a transboundary river!

Back-to-back with this trip I then headed on to Oslo, Norway. This was for a research centre progress meeting at NIFU (the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education). Here, with a colleague, we presented ongoing work on how research comes to be considered as ‘excellent’ or ‘high quality’ – via scientific peer judgement, and depending on whether it’s eventually considered ‘useful’ or as having had ‘impact’ somewhere in our world (subjective things, in a nutshell). This was again for my science policy related research, and was part of the R-Quest research centre, funded by The Research Council of Norway.

Photo: Wearing a Dale headband from Oslo, Norway.
Photo: Wearing a Dale headband from Oslo, Norway.

Whilst in Oslo I got some Dale headbands as gifts, then immediately lent one to a fellow passenger – who turned out to be from nearby Leeds in the North of England (go figure!) – on a unplanned, wonderful but rather chilly boat tour around the Oslofjord:

Photo: My recently acquired Dale headband keeping someone else warm on the Oslofjord!
Photo: My recently acquired Dale headband keeping someone else warm on the Oslofjord!
Photo: Me wrapped up on the Oslofjord.
Photo: Wrapped up well, but happily out on the Oslofjord for the first time.

Of course I don’t know how trustworthy the in-tour commentary was, but through it I stumbled upon some more water history. I learned about the geological history of the Oslofjord (very shallow for a fjord/glacial valley) and how swimming cabins on the nearby islands related to historical water-related social norms (people changed in them then swam under them, talking to their neighbours, whilst not being seen in their swimming costumes). I also heard how alcohol was smuggled out from the city at night to these cabins during Norway’s 1919 to 1926 prohibition:

Photo: Swimming cabins, visible on the right, on the shores of the Oslofjord.
Photo: Swimming cabins, visible on the right, on the shores of the Oslofjord.

It’s not always possible for me to have these experiences, although whenever I can I jump at the chance. Water and our history of how we relate to it is all around us. I find it nice to connect with this history, even in small ways, and for brief moments like these.

Finally, to close 2016 for Waterstink, Roger and I wish you a Happy New Year. We also want to tell you quickly about some plans we have for 2017, including:

  • Imminent news about the re-launch and launch, respectively, of our Part 1 and Part 2 MOOCs on water policy (now confirmed as launching 29 January 2017, on-demand, for enrolment as and when you have time);
  • More and better quality water-related photos in all our posts (as I’ve FINALLY got a handy, higher resolution camera to take with me to various places!);
  • A brand new series of – hopefully monthly – video posts, where we visit and discuss water-related sites around England and the UK (again, related to the new camera!);
  • Possibly a few experiments with water-related cartoons; and
  • Posts with all of our MOOC videos available via YouTube, if you’re not able to explore these materials on Coursera (Part 1 is up now, and I’ll do six posts, one for each week, as soon as I can in 2017).

Bye for now!

Duncan Thomas

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