Floods, drought and human-environment interactions in the writing of the Welsh diaspora in Patagonia

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterpeer-review


In the absence of instrumented historical climatological data, historical ephemera (e.g. letters, newspapers, literature) can provide valuable, yet unstructured and fragmentary, information on the extreme events of the past. They can also show us how societies perceived and adapted to their environmental settings. As we look towards a future of uncertain climatic conditions, possibly characterised by more frequent extreme events, such sources may inform strategies of adaptation. The Welsh colony in Patagonia, Argentina was founded in 1865. Colonists were used to Wales’s temperate climate, ample rainfall and small rivers and so the first decades were marked by unexpected adaptation to an alien environment of climatic extremes (droughts and floods). Creation of river diversions and irrigation resulted in the development of a viable agricultural community and represented successful, rapid adaptation. Due to strong cultural links between Patagonia and Wales, the colonial settlement history is well known. The emergent society’s perception of floods and droughts and their new alien landscape is less well examined, however. Archival research of letters, autobiographies and creative writing by Welsh Patagonians allows us to analyse historical perceptions of the extent, impact and management of climatic extremes as well as to extend the record of hydrological extremes beyond the instrumented record. Preliminary results presented in this paper show that the first settlers perceived the new landscape in the context of the environment of Wales with which they were more familiar (e.g. ‘similar to that which I have seen in Wales’) and with Welsh mythology (e.g. the flooding of Cantre’r Gwaelod). The binary nature of human-river relationships is clearly evident: flooding was particularly prevalent in the crucial early years immediately following colonisation and at the turn of the twentieth century but the harnessing of the river for irrigation allowed the establishment of a flourishing agricultural community.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2013
EventFuture Climate Dialogues - Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Aberystwyth, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Duration: 13 Jun 2013 → …


ConferenceFuture Climate Dialogues
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Period13 Jun 2013 → …


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