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Shifting Shores of the Anthropocene: The Settlement and (Unstable) Stabilisation of the North-Western Mediterranean Littoral Over the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

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Human occupation of the littoral has dramatically increased in the modern era, leading to major ecological and morphological changes of the coastal zone that are central to current debates on the Anthropocene. While the existing interpretations tend to represent these changes in terms of human impact and despoliation, we argue that exclusive insistence on this aspect risks obfuscating the inherent dynamism and persistent instability of coastal environments, while erasing the differences in how historical actors interacted with this dynamism. Focusing on the north-western Mediterranean, we investigate the interaction between stabilisation and instability – the shifting nature of the shores. Based on an extensive analysis of secondary sources in five languages (Italian, French, Catalan, Spanish and English), we propose a tripartite analytical framework: first, we analyse new understandings of the coast; second, coastal integration and networks; finally, the physical transformations of the coastal environment. Through this approach, the paper sheds light on the contested and ultimately elusive stabilisation which accompanied modern coastal settlement and invites the reader to think historically about the Anthropocene from the perspective of shifting shores.
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Keywords: Anthropocene; coastal change; coastal history

Appeared or available online: December 7, 2019

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