The Rule of Grassland. State Formation, Political Ecology, and Legal History in the Pyrenees (1750-1850)

Íñigo Ena Sanjuán

Since the mid-eighteenth century, the Spanish and French societies of the Pyrenean borderline have experienced processes of dramatic transformation. Changes such as the formation of the modern state, the creation of bureaucratic apparatuses, the emergence of national markets, the arrival of tourism, the disentailment of common land, or the development of new forms of property, just to mention a few, have transformed the relationship between these societies and their environment. All those changes are especially visible in the management of the main resource of the Pyrenean communities: grassland.

On the basis of the notions of social metabolism and practice, this project is intended to unearth the reasons and processes behind the transformations in societies of both the Spanish and French Pyrenees. Put differently, the project aims to analyse metabolic transitions -the processes of change in the relationships between nature and society- by examining the transformation in the daily practices of actors on both sides of the Pyrenean range. Changes in practices are examined in different spheres, ranging from politics to the environment and including legal, social, economic, and cultural aspects. The objective, in sum, is to reach deeper understanding of the processes of social and ecological change.

The project is focused on valleys on both sides of the frontier, as well as on the relationships between them. I will study two areas in the Western-Central Pyrenees: on the one hand, the valleys of Ansó, Roncal, Hecho, Aspe, and Barétous; on the other, the valleys of Tena, Broto, Ossau, and Barèges. Further case studies may be added in later phases. As for the chronology, the project initially covers the lapse between 1750 and 1850, that is, the period in which early modern polities started to collapse and the modern world started to emerge. This implies that the project must go back to the Middle Ages, to trace the origins and performance of pre-modern societies, and that it could reach the present, to fully understand all the processes of social and ecological transformation.

This is the first phase of a longer project which is intended to trace, analyse, and reassess the ancient practices and pacts between valleys. Through the association with IberLAND, this project will gain insights into the field of the legal history of land tenure and will benefit from comparing questions, methods, and outcomes with other case studies.


This two-year post-doctoral research project is funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Image: Mapa del valle de Tena, 1786, Archivo Histórico Provincial de Zaragoza (Spain)

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