SYMPOSIUM: Dumbarton Oaks presents 'Changing Climates - Changing histories: Perspectives from the Humanities'

More Information

This symposium will be live streamed from Dumbarton Oaks, where the speakers will convene in person. Upon registration, registrants will be sent a zoom link to the webinar.

In the expanding field of historical climatology, scientists and historians have been engaging in interdisciplinary research that brings together distinct sets of data to uncover past events of climate change and extreme weather events. These studies reveal valuable insights about the ability of humans and societies to respond and adapt to changing climatological conditions.

Research has confirmed human activity as the main cause of current global warming. While the concept of Homo Prometheus can polemically be traced back into paleo times, when humankind first learned to manage fire, the historical and cultural conditions that furthered the human exploitation of the environment, and thus anthropogenic climate change, remain a serious question: Which effects did population growth, increasing use of fossil fuels, agricultural burning activities, deforestation, management of water resources, etc. in the past have on the environment and which lasting changes in the climate did this human activity provoke - on a local and a global level? What can we learn from identified cases of anthropogenic climate change in the past? How did past societies respond to, reflect on, and explain climate events and the role of human agency therein? And what do cases of anthropogenic climate change tell us about the human relationship to environment and land?

This symposium seeks to explore these questions from a humanities perspective to understand the human activities that likely induced changes in environment and climate, and how people gave meaning to these activities and their effects -- prior and post impact. We are interested in hearing about the role of food production, resource management, systems of power, human expansionism, religion, philosophy, arts, etc. Bringing together science data with historical as well as archaeological records, literature, and art, the symposium papers will reflect on how the interdisciplinary approach of history and climate science has informed questions, methods, and theoretical frameworks used to develop a more comprehensive understanding of our pasts.

List of Participants

  • Timothy Beach, University of Texas at Austin
    The Trowel and the Laser: Climate and Humanity in the Maya World from the Pleistocene to the Anthropocene
  • Joyce E. Chaplin, Harvard University
    The Franklin Stove and Colonial Resource Conservation
  • Dagomar DeGroot, Georgetown University
  • José Iriarte, University of Exeter
    Climate Change, Landesque Capital, and Cultural Resilience in Late Pre-Columbian Amazonia
  • Matthew J. Jacobson, University of Glasgow
    The Science of Climate Change in the Roman and Byzantine Eastern Mediterranean
  • Matthew Liebmann, Harvard University
    Stalked by the “Refuse Winds”: Colonialism, Disease, and Ecological Change in the Pueblo Southwest, 1540–1700
  • Harriet Mercer, University of Cambridge
    Expanding Empire and Knowing Climate in the Southern Hemisphere
  • Lee Mordechai, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
    Environment and Society in the Sixth Century Eastern Mediterranean
  • Jordan Pickett, The University of Georgia
    Archaeologies of Climate Change in the Roman and Byzantine Eastern Mediterranean
  • Bradley Skopyk, Binghamton University
    Climate and New World Virgin Soil Epidemics: A Spatio-Temporal Approach to Understanding the Intersection of Mass Mortality, Spanish Imperialism, and the Little Ice Age in Early-Colonial Mexico
  • Paul Stephenson, Pennsylvania State University
    Late Antique Metallurgy and Environmental Violence
  • Valerie Trouet, University of Arizona
    Tree Story: What We Can Learn About Climate History from the Rings in Trees
  • Kyle Whyte, University of Michigan
    Opening Remarks


Speaker abstracts and biographies 

Organized by: Director’s Office and Programs of Garden and Landscape, Pre-Columbian, and Byzantine Studies

Image caption: Photograph courtesy of Valerie Trouet, Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research (University of Arizona).