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Environment and History

Event, Process and Pulse: Resituating Floods in Environmental Histories of South Asia

Rohan D'Souza

Environment and History 26 (2020): 31-50. doi: 10.3197/096734019X15755402985541

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The notion of the flood in South Asia is no longer solely characterised as the archetypal natural disaster. This perceptual shift, as this article will point out, draws from a conceptual shift within the field of environmental histories of South Asia. In the course of exploring and debating ideas about environmental change, environmental historians have drastically reconsidered the role and impacts of flooding in South Asia through three distinct narrative frameworks: (i) extreme hydraulic events; (ii) geomorphological process; and (iii) biological pulses. Environmental history as a field has thus helped to flesh out and radically revise our understanding of flooding, which has changed from previously being seen as an ahistorical calamitous event to instead providing contexts for revealing complex relationships between geomorphological processes, biological pulses and livelihood strategies. The notion of the flood in South Asia, consequently, is now acknowledged as an ecological force that is mediated by social, cultural and political interventions rather than exclusively borne out as an effect of nature.

KEYWORDS: Floods, South Asia, review, biological pulse, geomorphological process, environmental change


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