The Social Life of Sediment
Sediment is an essential component of water and river systems. The anthropogenic alteration of sediment fluxes in the world’s rivers is one of the principal markers of the Anthropocene, the new geological epoch characterized by human influence at the planetary scale. In spite of its environmental and historical importance, water and river histories have surprisingly neglected sediment until recently. This introduction to the special issue “The Social Life of Sediment” argues for putting sediment at the center of social and historical inquiry and discusses the potential and value of such an approach. To do so, we introduce the concept of the “social life of sediment,” that is, the idea that the existence and movement of sediment is entwined with social needs, values, and activities, and needs to be appraised in his historical dimension. We review recent literature in fluvial geomorphology, social sciences, and history to assess to what extent the social and historical life of sediment has been taken into account. After this interdisciplinary review, we present the seven papers of the special issue and highlight their major insights to the study of social and historical lives of sediment. We conclude by outlining avenues for further research and by summarizing what we all can gain from putting sediment at the center of historical inquiries.