Dr Hanne Cottyn

ISRF Independent Scholar Fellow 2021-22

Dr Hanne Cottyn

ISRF Independent Scholar Fellow 2021-22

Hanne Cottyn is an historian interested in human-nature relations, rural transformations, commodity frontiers, and socio-environmental conflict. Her work combines historical insight in local dynamics in the rural Andes with a critical global perspective. 

Since 2008, she has spent extensive time in Bolivia, Peru and Colombia working with indigenous and peasant communities, grassroots movements, NGOs and scholars. In 2014, she completed a PhD in History at Ghent University in her native Belgium with a study on indigenous struggles for community land rights in late 19th and early 20th century Bolivia. After working with environmental activist movements in Peru, she became a postdoctoral fellow, first at Ghent University and in recent years at the University of York. Her postdoctoral research explores the historical trajectories of land and conservation conflicts in Andean highland communities, in collaboration with Bolivian, Peruvian and Colombian partners.

Hanne sits on the board of CATAPA, a social movement that struggles for social and environmental justice in mining-impacted communities, particularly in Latin America. She is an active member of the Commodity Frontiers Initiative and the Belgian Latin America network ENCUENTRO.

The “more-than-human” history of a disappearing lake. Historicizing indigenous responses to socio-environmental change in and around Lake Poopó, Bolivia

In its global strategy to address climate change, the UN deems indigenous knowledges of key importance to develop sustainable responses to environmental change. This fellowship develops an innovative interdisciplinary approach to make sense of the “more-than-human” history of a disappearing highland lake. Lake Poopó made international headlines when its vast body of water dried up late 2015. With the lake, the identity of the Uru-Qotzuñi ethnic minority -“people of the lake”- seemed to evaporate as well. The Lake and Uru-Qotzuñi communities’ dramatic decline has triggered academic interest across disciplines. Existing research recognize that socio-historical factors play a role but thus far, these factors have not been examined in detail.  

This project builds on ten years of (post)doctoral historical research in Bolivia and on insights from my collaboration with anthropologists in fragile Andean ecosystems. Starting from notebooks left by Uru-Qotzuñi leaders in the late 20th century, I will be able to examine how daily human-environmental dynamics have shaped a historically changing landscape. Approaching the recent events as part of longer processes of landscape transformation, the proposed project will foster the integration of ethnohistory and environmental humanities research.

Combining untapped historical source material with ethnographic methods, I develop a methodology that centralizes indigenous communities’ lived experiences and accumulated knowledges regarding the multiple rhythms of environmental change. During an intensive research stay in the department of Oruro (Bolivia), I will undertake historical and ethnographic research in local archives and in collaboration with local NGOs and communities, will seek to contribute new local solutions for vulnerable livelihoods and landscapes.

By the end of the fellowship, I will have submitted 2 articles to international journals, completed a major follow-on research grant application, and created social media outputs including blog posts and podcasts.

Contacting Fellows

If you would like to contact any of our Fellows to discuss their ISRF-funded work, please contact Dr Lars Cornelissen (Academic Editor) in the first instance, at [email protected].