Polar Historian

Histories of Antarctica, the Arctic, and Beyond

Month: May, 2017

Daniel Haines, Rivers Divided: Indus Basin Waters in the Making of India and Pakistan (Oxford: OUP, 2016)


  1. The Problem of Territory
  2. Territorial Hyrdo-Logics
  3. Sovereignty Entabglements in Kashmir
  4. Punjab’s Riverine Borderlands
  5. Spaces of Cooperation
  6. Negotiating International Politics
  7. The Phantom of Cooperation



This book examines the history of the Indus River basin during the period of independence and partition up to and beyond the 1960 treaty that brought a partial closure to the conflict between India and Pakistan.  It argues that territoriality and sovereignty were central to the water politics of the basin and that broader historical circumstances of decolonization and the Cold War, shaped the history of the river basin.  The introduction suggests that environmental history is often excluded from histories of decolonization, and this book goes a long way to suggesting how productive environmental histories of decolonization might be.  The first two chapters set out the essential problem: the territories assigned to India and Pakistan after independence did not align neatly with the geography of the Indus basin, meaning that many of the rivers that constitute this watershed originate in India, but then flow through Pakistan.  There are different ways of dealing with water at an international boundary, but the disputed nature of the formation of this two states meant that they were essentially making up the rules as they were going along.  This was complicated even further by disputes over Kashmir, which occupies an important location within the Indus River watershed.   There was a tremendous emphasis on developmentalism in both countries (especially after Gandhi’s death), meaning that irrigation and water took on an even more important political component.  Even though the two countries were able to agree on the 1960 Treaty, the conflict hasn’t entirely gone away as new factors such as increasing population and climate change are altering some of the basic assumptions of the agreement.  Perhaps the book could say a little more about the physical realities of water and irrigation, and perhaps add more detail about how the river basin was understood by scientists and engineers on both sides of the conflict.  But it is a very nicely written discussion of the importance of the environment in the political history of decolonization.

Klaus Dodds and Mark Nuttall, The Scramble for the Poles (Polity, 2016)


  1. Scrambling for the Extraordinary
  2. Making and Remaking the Polar Regions
  3. Under Ice and Snow
  4. Governing the Arctic and Antarctic
  5. New Resource Frontiers
  6. Opening up the Poles
  7. Polar Demands and Demanding Polar Regions


Dodds and Nuttall’s The Scramble for the Poles offers a fascinating insight into the past, present, and future of the Arctic and Antarctica.  As would be expected from a geographer and an anthropologist, the book’s perspective is very much informed by these two disciplines, especially geography.  The book likes to play with words and ideas.  The authors acknowledge, for example, that the “scramble” of the book’s title is not unproblematic, but they like its implications as both a hurried effort to do something and a mixing and confusing.  But alongside the geography and the anthropology there is a significant historical dimension to this work.  In agreement with Andrew Stuhl’s argument, for example, Dodds and Nuttall suggest that there is little new about the supposedly “New Arctic,” with activities such as resource exploitation and “frontier mentalities” having existed for centuries.  There is lots in common with my The Polar Regions book in the thematic approach, and the book engages with similar topics such as exploration, resource exploitation, environmental change, and governance.  The penultimate chapter contains a very interesting discussion of “emerging powers,” especially Chinese, interest in the Polar Regions, and introduces the useful idea of a “Polar Orientalism.”  Overall, the book is certainly weighted toward the Arctic, and scholars of Antarctica might be left wanting a little more.  But this is a rich interpretation of the two Polar Regions and the connections between them, and contains lots of interesting ideas that help us to understand these two regions.