Past Answers to Current Concerns: Historical Cases of Navigating Socio-Environmental Stress

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Award Year: 
2020
Principal Investigator: 
John Haldon, Princeton University
Lee Mordechai, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Associated Program: 

 

How did environmental and climatic changes, whether sudden high-impact events or more subtle gradual changes, impact human responses in the past? How did societal perceptions of such changes affect behavioral patterns and explanatory rationalities in premodernity? Can a better historical understanding of these relationships inform our response to contemporary problems of similar nature and magnitude, such as adapting to climate change? Our Pursuit uses two rich historical case studies from the premodern Mediterranean and North Atlantic worlds to interrogate the linkages between different types of S-E interaction over decadal and centennial scales. We consider the possibility of socio-environmental asymmetries in which different degrees of socio-political complexity and population density precondition the potentials for inherent resilience under climate stress. Thus, whereas aridity may not necessarily indicate negative societal change, for example, and beneficial climate conditions may be favorable in the relative short term, they may at the same time support ultimately unsustainable economic pathways in the long term. While the environment could be a major factor in S-E systems, it is never sufficient to explain change by itself, and climate impacts cannot be determined by climate conditions alone. By synthesizing historical, archaeological, and natural science-derived data our Pursuit illuminates these interactions and disentangles a range of causal relationships that generated the historical outcomes we can see in our data, identifying in the process factors that contribute to resilience and those which introduce vulnerabilities. By analyzing these societies as complex adaptive systems, we hope to contribute to contemporary thinking about societal-environmental interactions in policy and planning. Our research group brings together a diverse and interdisciplinary team of scholars (historians, archaeologists, ecologists, palaeoscientists and risk analysts, among others) from North America, Western and Eastern Europe, and the Middle East to establish a common methodologically innovative framework that may be applied to both the study of the past, as well as to broader scholarly and public science discourse.

 

 

Associated SESYNC Researcher(s): 
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