Brief Enquiries

Can Water Change Society, Ms Morgan?

By Nadine Querfurth

One of Ruth Morgan’s childhood memories is of her grandfather watering his garden in a suburb of Perth – such a valuable commodity had to be used before daybreak when the ground was still cool and evaporation slower. Little did the Australian historian know at the time that water would become her primary research topic.

Ruth Morgan
Ruth Morgan (Photo: Humboldt Foundation / Hans Deumling)

“Water is life, but its availability is also a measure of social status and a means of social discrimination,” says Morgan, who has specialised in environmental history. In her book “Running Out? Water in Western Australia”, she uses the example of Western Australia to describe the impact of climate change, historical attitudes to the resource water and the concomitant social transformation.

Access to water or the absence thereof has the potential to cause social conflict and exacerbate political and social divisions, Morgan explains. “In the late 19th century, for example, a lack of personal hygiene led to discrimination and social exclusion, particularly with regard to Australian indigenous peoples,” she comments.

Morgan’s current goal is to find approaches to helping today’s urban planners and city dwellers plan for future water supplies. Even though the Australian government has found ways of dealing with water scarcity, she still urges caution: “Households as well as industrial groups must remain vigilant and use water carefully.”

published in Humboldt Kosmos 107/2017

Environmental historian and historian of science Dr Ruth Morgan from Monash University, Clayton, Australia, is a Carl Friedrich von Siemens Research Fellow at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society at LMU Munich.