Archaeologists at the vanguard of environmental and climate research
26 February 2017
The history of people and landscapes, whether natural or cultural, is fundamentally connected. Answering key historical questions about this relation will allow us to approach our most important environmental issues in novel ways. Today in the open access journal PLOS ONE archaeologists present a list of 50 priority issues for historical ecology.
We tend to think of the overuse of natural resources, climatic instability, and large-scale human land use as quintessentially modern day problems. Yet a group of researchers led by archaeologists and calling themselves historical ecologists have recently come together to determine what we need to know about past human-environmental relationships to build a more sustainable future. These historical ecologists crowd-sourced hundreds of research questions from scholars around the world that, when answered, will reveal key information about how people have hade impact on and responded to changing environments over the course of thousands of years. Workshops were held at Uppsala University (Sweden) and Simon Fraser University (Canada) to discuss submissions from scholars and identify the 50 questions that are most in need of answering. The list of 50 priority issues for historical ecology will be published Friday in the open access journal PLOS ONE.
This research brings a novel approach to tackling the big problems our societies face when it comes to human-environmental relations. Historical ecologists are a diverse community of scholars dedicated to bridging the gap between the natural and social sciences because as first author Chelsey Geralda Armstrong, a PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University explains “issues like climate change are not just ecological problems – they are social ones.” Adds co-author Anna Shoemaker, also a PhD at Uppsala University “The 50 questions in this paper make no distinction between the history of people and landscapes, or natural and cultural, the two are fundamentally connected.”
The focus on learning from the past is also critical as “worldwide and through time, humans have adapted to environmental stresses and climatic shifts. Although it’s easy to assume that people tend to disastrously impact environmental health”, says Armstrong, “through studying the archaeological record and working with Indigenous collaborators, we see many examples of ancient societies that have successfully responded to environmental instability by conscientiously managing their resources and behaving in ways that promote resilient and biodiverse habitats.”
The paper also makes clear that another reason history matters is that to be able to predict the effects of contemporary human activity, to create accurate models for future climate change for example, we need to know how modern landscapes have been shaped by the actions of people in the past. Says Shoemaker “humans have been modifying their environments for a long time. We need to take into account how the landscapes we live in today are the result of millennia of people doing things like burning vegetation, herding animals and farming when we make decisions about how to preserve, restore, or remodel environments. Historical ecology research is all about generating that data so we can figure out how best to manage our world.”
Another clear concern for these researchers is how academics can better integrate Western science with traditional and Indigenous knowledge bases. “Local and Indigenous communities that have tended to be marginalized from environmental management decisions have much to offer,” says Armstrong, adding that “issues like climate change need to be approached with diverse knowledge sets, and take into account multiple perspectives”. Armstrong stresses that greater attempts at meaningful and respectful collaboration with Indigenous and local communities are seriously needed, revealing that “the questions submitted from researchers about how resource managers can best engage with Indigenous and/or local communities were consistently flagged as some of the most important.”
Article: Anthropological Contributions to Historical Ecology: 50 Questions, Infinite Prospects. Chelsey Geralda Armstrong, Anna C. Shoemaker, Iain McKechnie, Anneli Ekblom, Péter Szabó, Paul J. Lane, Alex C. McAlvay, Oliver J. Boles, Sarah Walshaw, Nik Petek, Kevin S. Gibbons, Erendira Quintana Morales, Eugene N. Anderson, Aleksandra Ibragimow, Grzegorz Podruczny, Jana C. Vamosi, Tony Marks-Block, Joyce K. LeCompte, Sākihitowin Awâsis, Carly Nabess, Paul Sinclair, Carole L. Crumley. PLOS ONE. DOI 10.137/journal.pone.0171883
Saying and doing are two different things
18 januari 2022
COLUMN. While more and more people say Yes and Amen when you ask them about the importance of living in a more environmentally conscious and sustainable way, few actually change their behaviour, writes Katarina Graffman, PhD in cultural anthropology.
Telling the story of Sweden’s Jews
11 november 2021
"There are many ways of being Swedish, and being Jewish is one of them." These words set the seal on Carl Henrik Carlsson’s history of the Jews in Sweden (Judarnas historia i Sverige). Carlsson is a researcher at Uppsala University, and his book h...
Campus Gotland students unearth Iron Age warrior
10 september 2021
Uppsala University archaeology students’ summer excavations on the island of Gotland turned up an exciting surprise: they found a warrior, with sword and spurs, in an Iron Age grave in Buttle Änge. Now the skeleton and grave goods will be analysed...
How Linnaean learning spread far and wide
07 juni 2021
An inspiring middle-school teacher sparked Linda Andersson Burnett’s interest in history. Now a researcher in the history of science and ideas at Uppsala University, she is currently studying Carl Linnaeus and his influence, which extends far beyo...
Elly Griffiths is giving this year’s Adam Helms Lecture
03 juni 2021
Each year, Uppsala University and the Swedish Publishers’ Association arrange a lecture in memory of the publisher Adam Helms. This year’s lecture will be given by the internationally renown British crime novelist Elly Griffiths on 16 September 20...
New thesis: Finery for fashionable ladies
11 maj 2021
When the first descriptions of knitting and crochet were published in Swedish, in the mid-19th century, such handiwork was described as the finest of all feminine handicrafts, for the benefit and pleasure alike of the trend-conscious, diligent mid...
Linnaeus’ complicated relationship with racism
07 maj 2021
Since June 2020, Carl Linnaeus has been a subject of debate in Sweden and around the world. What sparked it off were the actions of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Statues of slave owners have been lambasted or destroyed. In Sweden, the dis...
Conspiracy theories characterise views in and about Europe
03 maj 2021
Conspiratorial narratives of internal disintegration and external threats affect views in the European Union and Europe to an increasing extent. Our trust in society is put to the test in crises such as COVID-19 when various groups are singled out...
Nordic conspiracy theories through the ages
01 mars 2021
Conspiracy theories are becoming more common in the world, and the Nordic countries are no exception. Are some conspiracy theories unique to the Nordic countries? What typical narratives are disseminated? And when did this really start? A new book...
The plague year of 1710 was also a difficult year
24 februari 2021
As historians, it is our job to take a step back and give perspective to our current situation. For anyone looking back, it isn’t hard to find other difficult years. In Sweden’s past, 1710 was undoubtedly one such year, writes Jonas Lindström, res...
Sustainable development the focus of new graduate school at Campus Gotland
21 januari 2021
On 18 January, Uppsala University’s new multidisciplinary graduate school opened at Campus Gotland. Its focus is on sustainable development. This involves research on key societal challenges within changing energy systems, sustainable consumption,...
Archives crucial for Freemasons’ identity
22 december 2020
The Order of Freemasons’ meticulous archives are fundamental to their identity. The unique structure of the masonic archives reinforces the secrecy and mystique of the self-image that has been fashioned by the Order — and characterises it in the e...
Grants for research on the impact of AI on people and society
15 december 2020
In a major 10-year national research programme, two Wallenberg Foundations are supporting research on the impact of the ongoing technology shift, involving digitalisation and artificial intelligence, on our society and our behaviour. Two of the gr...
Linnaeus and Rudbeck medallists chosen
10 december 2020
This year the Rudbeck Medal is awarded to Professors Olle Eriksson, Inger Sundström Poromaa and Maria Ågren, while the Linnaeus Medal is awarded to Professor Kerstin Lindblad Toh and Chairman Dai-Won Yoon at Hallym University in South Korea.
Turkic cultural heritage in Uppsala
07 december 2020
Uppsala University has a rich collection of manuscripts, printed material, art objects and maps related to the Ottoman Empire and other Turkic cultures. How did they come to Uppsala? This story is told in a new book “Turcologica Upsaliensia. An Il...
Fallen in battle, these Swedish Vikings are part of a larger genetic puzzle
17 september 2020
In a recently published article in the journal Nature, 90 researchers from various countries have collaborated to develop new knowledge about the Viking-era population. Marie Allen, professor of forensic genetics at Uppsala University, has contrib...
The VR game that takes you to medieval Visby
14 augusti 2020
Using a VR helmet, you can try your hand at archery in 14th century Visby. This new VR game has been developed by the game company Disir, which was founded by a game developer and three archaeologists, of which two research at Uppsala University.
“The American dilemma is far from resolved”
15 juni 2020
The police violence in Minneapolis that resulted in the death of George Floyd has once again thrust relations between black and white Americans onto the agenda, a dilemma that will most likely play a central role in this autumn’s presidential elec...
Social graces and etiquette vital for Carl Linnaeus
04 juni 2020
What would have become of Carl Linnaeus if he had remained single? Would science have missed out on one of its major lodestars without his well-functioning household? And was his son, Carl Linnaeus the Younger, really the ne’er-do-well he was repu...
Medieval manuscript fragments acquired
26 maj 2020
A group of fragments of medieval manuscripts has been acquired by Uppsala University Library. Among these there is a fragment related to Saint Bridget of Sweden. This particular fragment may have been written at or owned by the Vadstena Abbey.