Bristol-Beaufort Futures: living and imagining environmental change.

Beaufort, South Carolina, and Bristol share a number of characteristics. They might be 4,000 miles apart, but the two cities share a common ground in terms of their histories – and potential futures.

Perhaps the most important similarity between the two cities is the relationship that each locality has with its water. In both cities, the waterways – rivers, ports, and proximity to the Atlantic – have had a great influence over the past. Both have particular relationships to transatlantic slavery. Bristol was one of the oldest and most lucrative slave-trading ports in the history of the British empire; and Beaufort hosted major historical events, from Emancipation to Reconstruction. In a sense, the two cities can be seen to bookend the slave trade.  

Because of these relationships to the slave trade historically, they also continue to be home to sizeable and vibrant African Diaspora communities; not least the St. Paul’s community in Bristol and the Gullah of coastal South Carolina.  

Bristol and Beaufort also continue to trade on identities based around water, drawing attention to their ports in order to attract tourists.  

What did the project involve? 

In this project, the team considered both cities’ relationships to water in a time of climate emergency and environmental precarity. Thinking of water, they were able to consider the ways global shifts in climate and the environment are impacting local communities and individual imaginations about the uncertainty of life on the planet.  

Despite these major similarities, conversations between the two had not occurred on a meaningful level. The project involved representatives from Bristol travelling to St. Helena’s Island, just off the coast of Beaufort, to host a one-day conversation between academics, creatives, and city-council representatives based between the two cities.  

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Kirk B. Sides (University of Bristol, Department of English) focuses on the relationship between ecological thinking, science/speculative fiction, and anticolonial and anti-racialist politics in African literatures.  
  • Michael Malay (University of Bristol, Department of English) explores the lives of ignored or uncared for species, and considers the implications of what would be lost – both for the environment and for culture – if certain species were to disappear.