On November 13-15th 2015 at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver Canada the New International Community for Historical Ecology (NICHE), the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at Uppsala University, and the Integrated History and future of People on Earth research network sponsored the 2nd International Historical Ecology Meeting.
1st International Workshop on Historical Ecology: The Next Generation
The 2nd International Historical Ecology Meeting was a continuation of an event hosted at Uppsala University last year (the 1st International Workshop on Historical Ecology: The Next Generation), chiefly organized by Anna Shoemaker of the REAL project. An output of this Uppsala workshop was a network of graduate students and leading academics pursuing historical ecology research eager to discuss the practice of historical ecology.
The attendees of the 1st International Workshop on Historical Ecology: The Next Generation also initiated a process to determine the 50 key questions for historical ecology. Much discussion was generated when reflecting on how historical ecology is practiced. It became obvious that historical ecology attracts a diverse group of people whose interests populate many different theoretical, spatial, and temporal areas. The challenge was set to bring more voices to the discussion, and embark on a process to determine what issues unite us.
From the Uppsala workshop, we launched an open survey asking what are the key questions for historical ecology? The survey was live for a period of one year and we had hundreds of responses from researchers and students all over the world. A sub-group of workshop participants further edited the final submissions to eliminate duplicates and sort the questions into themes: biodiversity, climate change and climate variability, methods and applications, resource management and governance, multi-scalar and multi-disciplinary, and communication and policy.
2nd International Historical Ecology Meeting
The second workshop in this series brought together many of the original Uppsala participants and a host of new faces with fresh perspectives. The Vancouver workshop was chiefly organized by Chelsey Armstrong, a PhD student at Simon Fraser University department of archaeology, and offered a platform for early stage and more established researchers to present their work and how it articulates with historical ecology. We had a rousing keynote speech from Carole Crumley, and inspiring talks from David Egan, Peter Stahl, Dana Lepofsky, Iain McKechnie, and Steve Wolverton. We also had excellent information sessions hosted by Grace McRae-Okine and Tracy Giesz Ramsay on the secrets of storytelling in the digital age, and from Sakhitowin Awasis on facilitation something.
Working groups were held to discuss, debate, and edit the submissions from the 50 key questions for historical ecology survey. We took a consensus building approach to finding our key questions. This entailed dividing workshop participants into 3 groups, each group spent an hour evaluating, discussing, and debating the questions under a single theme. A facilitator for each group was provided to take notes, keep participants on topic, and share results with everyone. Each group was able to rotate through 4 of the 6 themes, and we brought down the total number of questions to 162.
On our last day we continued the discussion and as a collective worked through all 162 questions. Some questions were eliminated, some were amalgamated into new hybrid questions, and the remainder were accepted “as is”. This resulted in 62 questions.
Towards 50 Key Questions for Historical Ecology
In the final round of edits participants from the Uppsala and the Vancouver workshops were invited to “score” the final 62 questions using an online survey. This resulted in a list of 50 highest-ranking questions. The entire process culminates with a published paper authored by participants of the 2014 Uppsala and 2015 Vancouver workshop.
Towards 50 key questions for historical ecology is fundamentally an open and consensus driven process though it is largely guided by the NICHE organizing committee – 6 PhD students housed at institutions in Canada, England, Sweden, and the USA. Participants in the 2014 Uppsala University meeting and the 2015 Simon Fraser University established the framework for the question setting exercise and also edited questions submitted. The questions themselves were open submissions generated by individuals from a global community.
Similar to other publications on research priority setting exercises, we intend to move towards 50 key questions for historical ecology. We hope this process will stimulate knowledge exchange amongst people practicing historical ecology, and those interested in the research program. The questions have been formulated in order to highlight issues of importance to those identifying as historical ecologists and to inspire future research projects and collaborations. This is by no means an exclusive or exhaustive process – “defining” historical ecology in not an objective or stagnant process, nor is fully defining a fluid research program such as HE our primary goal. As Szabó notes in his recent review of historical ecology, practitioners come from a long line of theoretical and disciplinary backgrounds, manifesting their versions of historical ecology in a number of different ways.
Organizations that have provided generous support for the workshops include Uppsala University department of archaeology and ancient history, the Mind and Nature research node at Uppsala University, IHOPE, SFU dean of graduate studies, the SFU graduate student services, SFU faculty of environment, Sustainable SFU, the SFU archaeology graduate student caucus, the SFU biology student caucus, the SFU department of biology, and the SFU School of environment and resource management.