Lessons from the Past: Unfolding the Dynamics among Climate, Balkan Landscapes, and Humans over the Past Millennium
Dr. Charuta Kulkarni, The Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY)
Drawing upon pollen, charcoal, and geochemical analyses of two Serbian lakes for the first time, this doctoral dissertation explores the environmental history of the Central Balkan region over the past 600 years, which includes the Little Ice Age (LIA). The extent of the LIA largely coincided with the emergence, rise, and decline of the Ottoman Empire and the beginning of the Industrial Era; all of which deeply influenced the Balkan landscapes. Integrating new Serbian palaeoecological records with other natural and human archives from the region, this project examines a diverse blend of socio-political-climatic "stressors" and traces their profound impacts on predominantly agro-pastoral Balkan subsistence. By statistically analyzing ecological (woodland, land erosion, land clearance, agriculture), social (population, famines) and climatic (droughts, extreme cold years) variables, it discovers adverse effects of the LIA on the Balkan societies and reveals how they responded in transitioning socio-political regimes.
These long-term socio-ecological topics are especially relevant today. According to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Balkan countries are among the most affected regions in terms of a changing water cycle due to extreme climatic events such as increased flooding and droughts. The European Environmental Agency (EEA) also attests that the already hot and semi-arid climate of southern Europe is expected to become warmer and drier, which will threaten its waterways, agricultural production and timber harvests. All this as Serbia’s likely entry into the European Union may put a larger stress on the Serbian society, will present challenges for its economy. The sustainability of agriculture and its resilience in the face of changing environmental and social conditions will doubtless inspire political debates both within and outside the country. These discussions highlight the importance of scholarship that looks deep into the past which provides analogs that help us understand how socio-economic systems function - and how they transform - amid global climate changes. Although the picture is yet far from complete and more palaeoecological work is needed to elucidate the interplays and feedbacks of climate variability in the context of human landscapes and activities in the Balkan region, the Serbian proxy records explored in this dissertation shed new light on the nature of responses and interactions of past societies with drastic climatic events.
Dr. Charuta Kulkarni recently completed her PhD from Earth and Environmental Sciences Program, CUNY Graduate Center, New York and is currently searching for research opportunities to extend her environmental history research in Asia, India in particular.
Dr. Teresa C. Ashe, Independent Researcher.
Climate Change: Discourses of Making and Unmaking is a book that interests itself in the role of climate scepticism in climate change politics, developing a history of the science, politics and policy of climate change, which allows us to consider how climate change came to have the meaning it now has and how this meaning has been changed and challenged.
The first section of the book examines early understandings of climate and climatic change, considering how the idea of anthropogenic global warming emerged as a response to the idea of Ice Ages. It looks at the social and technical factors that conditioned when and how this theory became convincing and to whom.
The book then looks at how this theory was framed politically in the US, so as to garner adherents, researchers, funding and insitutionalised research programs. This section explains the shift away from seeing climate research as a step towards Cold War weather control and shows how it became an ‘environmental’ issue.
Finally, the book considers how climate change was problematized and placed on the policy agenda and the subsequent attempts to create an international regime to address the problem. It focusses particularly on the role of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as an epistemic community for the creation and functioning of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Underpinning this project is an interest in how heterodox and orthodox discourses of environmental politics emerge. The research looks particularly at American environmental scepticism and at the role of ‘climate scepticism’ in climate change politics, which works to undermine the idea that policy need me made at all.
The book argues that a discursive understanding of environmental politics best recognises the presence of both orthodox and heterodox epistemic communities, while foregrounding the relationship between power and knowledge as it underpins environmental politics.
Dr. Martin Bauch, Deutsches historisches Institut in Rom.
I am in the third circle, filled with cold,
unending, heavy, and accursed rain;
its measure and its kind are never changed.
Gross hailstones, water gray with filth, and snow come
streaking down across the shadowed air;
the earth, as it receives that shower, stinks.
- Dante, Inferno, Canto VI
In the last years of his life, Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) was an unsuspecting witness to a rapid shift in climatic conditions that led to cooler and wetter weather all over the continent. Perhaps it was not by chance that in his Inferno, finished in 1314, the sinners guilty of gluttony and sent to the third circle of hell were punished by incessant cold rain, hail and snow, while squirming through foul-smelling mud that reminded contemporaries of the crops rotting on their fields. Across Europe, meteorological events in the 1310s caused harvest failures, floods, famines, and mass deaths. In particular, Dante’s description of the wet third ring of hell is very similar to weather conditions that caused famine in Italy between 1310-12, and offers a prominent clue the onset of the Little Ice Age left in Europe’s cultural heritage.
Other traces of the cold, wet years appear in variety of sources: inscriptions from Central Europe which recall the thousands of starved individuals buried outside the city walls, and countless chronicles reporting death, famine, corpses on the streets, and riots linked to rising food prices. The hostile weather and massive soil erosion can also be reconstructed using scientific methods: ice cores from Alpine glaciers, sediment cores from lakes, and tree rings all reveal the rainy years that oaks all over Europe enjoyed, as these trees thrive on chilly and humid weather. Using these tools, scientists and climate historians have come to agree that climatic conditions changed seriously at the beginning of the 14th century, ending the presumed milder conditions of the so-called Medieval Climatic Anomaly and initiating the so-called Little Ice Age. When referring to the extreme wet and cool conditions in Northwestern Europe that were responsible for the Great Famine (1315-21), written sources and dendrochronological data agree that the 1310s were a decade of climatic stress. The damage of this decade, called the Dantean Anomaly by, was long thought to be restricted to the British Isles, Northern France, the Benelux countries and Northern Germany. But as not only the Inferno’s vision of hell indicates, the cool period was probably a trans-continental event.
Reanalyses are educated estimates of how the atmosphere behaved in the recent past. They are built by combining computer models of the atmosphere and ocean with weather observations to build an approximation of what the entire atmosphere was doing every six hours or so.
Climatologists and meteorologists all over the world use reanalyses to research our climate and weather. Most of the reanalysis products that exist cover the entire planet, but if you want to study storms over Paris for example, or wind changes in the Spanish Pyrenees, then it’s better to use a regional reanalysis, which has a higher spatial resolution.
Recovering historical weather observations for long-term climate analysis is a well-established practice in many places in Europe, where written documents cover several centuries. In Australia, written records only begin with British settlement in the late 18th century, as the indigenous Aboriginal people maintain their history through largely oral traditions.
However, this does not mean that there is no historical climate information for the Great Southern Land. Recent efforts are uncovering a treasure trove of historical weather and climate data that are shedding light on both the regional and global climate. Here are just a few examples:
Daniel Barber, Climatic Effects: Architecture, Media, and the Globalization of the International Style
Architects have long had an interest in the relationship of their design interventions to surrounding climatic conditions. Concerns over site, orientation to the sun, and the relationship of materials to heat and humidity are all embedded in vernacular design traditions, and have been essential to the provision of human shelter for centuries. With the emergence of modern architectural techniques beginning in the 19th century, the relationship of a building to its climate, and the figuration of this relationship, underwent significant transformation.
Climatic Effects documents and analyzes the robust and dynamic discourse around climate that developed as part of architecture’s modernization, and became the focus of many practices and pedagogies in the 1950s. The post-war years saw extensive experimentation in how architectural practices could project buildings with a more precise relationship to their surrounding ecological conditions – in the efficiency of production, in the use of solar power, and, the primary subject of this project, in the alignment of the form, orientation, and materials of a building to its climate. As part of these new methods, forms of representation were developed that sought to clarify the possible social, material, and economic relationships that could result. It was through these images, as much as through the buildings that were constructed, that design methods encouraged new ideas about how to live. The drawings, diagrams, and photographs produced in this methodological discourse, quasi-technical in nature, led to novel parameters for how architecture could operate in the social milieu, and also encouraged design professionals to consider new criteria for their designs.
Introduced by Professor Dagomar Degroot.
This semester, I taught a course about the environmental history of climate change. My students were a diverse and passionate group. None were history or science majors, and two were foreign exchange students. I challenged them with a difficult essay assignment that encouraged them to think like a professor of environmental history. This is a condensed version of the assignment instructions:
"Choose a topic relevant to the history of climate change. Be as creative as possible! Next, hunt for primary and secondary sources that will let you write an essay about your topic. You can also search through Georgetown’s libraries, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and other resources in Washington, DC. Your secondary sources should include at least six books, where one book is equivalent to two articles. A scholar who is not a historian must have written at least two of your books (or four of your articles).
Matthias Heymann, Janet Martin-Nielsen, Gabriel Henderson, and Dania Achermann, Shaping Cultures of Prediction: Knowledge, Authority, and the Construction of Climate Change
Sponsored by the Danish Research Council (2013-2016), this project examines the emergence of climate modelling as a culture of prediction (ca. 1960 to 1985). Climate modelling has played a major role in forging a scientific consensus about climatic change. Scientific consensus, however, tends to hide the social relations, complex negotiations and tangible interests behind the consensus itself. It straightens the diversity of scientific perceptions and the complexities of historical processes that have shaped it.
This project aims at analyzing the scientific conflicts, social processes and underlying presumptions that contributed to (1) the emergence of climate modelling as a predominant research strategy, and (2) the controversial application of these models as predictive tools in science and policy. It will show how climate modelling and its uses emerged from a competition between different knowledge claims and epistemic standards and attained what some argue to be a hegemonic status within a diversity of knowledge cultures.
Andrea E. Williams, Planting Politics: French Forestry, Pastoralism, and Empire in the Nineteenth-Century Mediterranean World
My book manuscript investigates the relationship between Mediterranean mobile pastoralism and nineteenth-century French forestry through case studies in Provence, French colonial Algeria, and Ottoman Anatolia. It is both comparative and connective, exposing themes of climate and environmental change as well as the evolution of discourse about such changes. In these three Mediterranean contexts, the application of French forest science reflected environmental concerns as well as French imperial ambitions. Aimed largely at regulating and marginalizing Mediterranean mobile pastoral traditions, forest administration in these regions ultimately became a process of negotiation in which local pastoralists played an active role. The encounters of French foresters and pastoralists in Provence, Algeria, and Anatolia affected inhabitants and the environment in significant and often unforeseen ways. At the same time, they transformed forest science and forest practices within France and around the world.
Clark Alejandrino, Storm Clouds Over China: Storms, Typhoons, and Society on Coastal Late Imperial and Modern China
My dissertation seeks to reconstruct typhoon events, their societal impacts, and responses in coastal Guangdong, China's richest and most populous province, from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. It shows when, where, how often, with what intensity, and in what patterns typhoons struck Guangdong. It argues that their seasonal regularity made them play a constructive and not just destructive role in the governance, economy, society, and culture of this rich coastal province. Continuities and changes occurred between the Qing empire, Nationalist regime, and People's Republic of China as centuries-old ways of understanding typhoons interacted with new modes of meteorology, disaster relief, and social and political organization.