Seeing the Forest for the Trees –
Dr. Sara Morrison’s Interdisciplinary Research
Written by Samantha Goverde
Dr. Sara Morrison, a full-time professor of history at Brescia, teaches courses on topics ranging from modern Europe to Queen Elizabeth I. Her passion, however, lies in a relatively new discipline in an area that never existed when she first began her education – environmental history. Her research stems from an interest she has held since high school: what makes the English royal forests so important? Why were they the cause of so much political, economic, and social tension? This interest led Dr. Morrison to begin examining the royal forests and the forest law that governed them, to determine what exactly these laws mandated.
Currently writing a book entitled The Stuart Royal Forests: An Environmental History for the Royal Historical Society in England, Dr. Morrison focuses her research on royal forests during the Stuart period of the 17th century. Dr. Morrison takes a very integrative, multidisciplinary approach to her research. She considers not only the environmental, but also the political, social, and economic implications surrounding the royal forests and forest law.
Dr. Morrison’s work examines how the monarchy’s administration and use of the royal forests changed across the span of the Stuart age, which is characterized by high tensions between the monarchy and parliament, as well as the Anglo-Dutch wars. Splitting the era into three specific sections, Dr. Morrison examines how priority for land use shifts from recreation, for example hunting, under King James I, to revenue generation, by selling off areas of the land, under King Charles I, to resource management, to build up England’s first naval forces, beginning under Cromwell. She also explores the many implications each of these shifts had on the environment and on society.
Sara is shown here with two of her former students, Christine McManus (left) and Jessica Warecki, who made presentations at a recent Western University Conference, “From Here to There.” Christine presented conclusions from her Senior History thesis on the celebration of Elizabeth I’s Accession Day, while Jessica, now doing a post-graduate degree in history, discussed the importance of zoos and circuses in the popular culture of the Victorian period.
This research has informed a number of other research projects for Dr. Morrison. At her last conference (American Society for Environmental History), she presented a paper about pre-modern forestry and the differences between the practices of natural regeneration versus plantation. Her next project will be an examination of the Sherwood Forest and the reasons it became such a crucial forest during naval expansion of the late 1660s, when it lay over a hundred miles from the nearest dockyard.
By combining her passion and interest in history, environmental history, historical geography, and England’s royal forests, Dr. Morrison continues to develop, publish, and present work not only at Brescia, but also in the broader community of environmental historians. She is devoted to teaching as well and delights in the successes of her students.