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Of time and timing: Internal Drainage Boards and water level management in the River Hull Valley

Bankoff, Greg


Greg Bankoff


This article applies a path-dependency approach to better understand the potentialities and limitations of non-main rivers in England. Using the River Hull Valley of the East Riding as an example, the study explores the underlying historical dynamics at work throughout the greater internal drainage board (IDB) network in terms of infrastructural and institutional lock-in that makes any substantial alteration to the system prohibitively difficult and expensive to realize. Over the centuries, the accreted nature of the decisions made by these local water boards, influenced as much by what had already been done as by the demands of present exigencies, has shaped both the form and practice of the specific lowland landscape that characterizes certain parts of England. Adopting a methodology that combines archival research and oral history with interviews, focus group discussions, and transects of the local landscape in the company of knowledgeable resource persons, this article shows how the infrastructural lock-in of non-main local drainage systems only serves to reinforce the institutional lock-in—and vice versa. The article concludes by returning to the broader question of the successive role IDBs have played in the making of the English Lowlands and suggests that, in a time of increasing climatic uncertainty, they may represent more an obstacle to change than an agency of transformation.


Bankoff, G. (2022). Of time and timing: Internal Drainage Boards and water level management in the River Hull Valley. Environmental History, 27(1), 86-112.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 22, 2021
Online Publication Date Dec 22, 2021
Publication Date Jan 1, 2022
Deposit Date Aug 2, 2021
Publicly Available Date Dec 23, 2022
Journal Environmental History
Print ISSN 1084-5453
Electronic ISSN 1930-8892
Publisher Oxford University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 27
Issue 1
Pages 86-112
Public URL