Applied Historical Methods for the Environment

Environmental scholars from across the spectrum of quantitative and qualitative methodologies make regular use of historical sources: to estimate historical populations for studies of endangered species listings, trace energy demand, explore the economic impacts of climate change, restore and preserve ecological features, debate climate impacts, and report trends in emissions, pollution, land conversion, and water use.  Yet historians too rarely engaged in these practical applications of their methods. Our consortium will meet monthly to critique, explore, and develop methods for applying archival and collections research as well as historiographical analysis to projects in environmental policy, law, and economics. How can historians contribute a more robust and critical analysis of historical sources in order to forward major environmental debates? We will explore the methods that historians can contribute to environmental problem solving and critique the limits of projects that rely on historical sources for data analysis.  We will question the role of historical methods in reproducing environmental narratives within the context of empirical, predictive, and mathematical methodologies. Sessions will explore peer-reviewed publications to examine the diverse uses of historical sources for qualitative and quantitative research. Primary source analysis will focus on the historical manuscripts, rare books, data, and surveys used in peer-reviewed environmental publications and highlight the integration of archival and historical methods with digital humanities curation, data mining with R, and ArcGIS for spatial analysis. Presentations of original environmental reconstructions, narrative analysis, designs, and data projects are also welcome.


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Consortium Respectful Behavior Policy

Participants at Consortium activities will treat each other with respect and consideration to create a collegial, inclusive, and professional environment that is free from any form of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.

Participants will avoid any inappropriate actions or statements based on individual characteristics such as age, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, nationality, political affiliation, ability status, educational background, or any other characteristic protected by law. Disruptive or harassing behavior of any kind will not be tolerated. Harassment includes but is not limited to inappropriate or intimidating behavior and language, unwelcome jokes or comments, unwanted touching or attention, offensive images, photography without permission, and stalking.

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Upcoming Meetings

There are no currently scheduled upcoming events.

Past Meetings

  • April 22, 2022

    collection<>ecologies with Dominik Hünniger, University of Hamburg
    The collection<>ecologies research collective is a collaboration of an international group of scholars and artists interested in collections, covering a wide array of specialties and professions. Our group was born in 2020 and we created a place for discussing the intersections of the history of collections, material culture, environmental humanities, (historical) ecology and the material history of the sciences and knowledge.
    From an environmental history & humanities perspective, informed by a decolonial approach, we would like to explore the circumstances and environments in which organisms and objects were found and created for collections. Both environmental history as well as the history of natural history collections and collecting have gained much momentum and public attention in recent years. Our group wants to explore how historical ecology approaches can be used to analyse the past of collections and how (historical) collections may provide important answers for current ecological issues now and in the future.

  • March 25, 2022

    Merging Environmental Conservation and Historic Preservation by Barry Stiefel, Associate Professor at the College of Charleston Historic Preservation & Community Planning Program.  
    Stiefel's book Sustainable Heritage: Merging Environmental Conservation and Historic Preservation brings together ecological-conservation theory and heritage-preservation theory and explores topics such as Cultural Relationships with Nature, Ecology, Biodiversity, Energy, Resource Systems, and the Integration of Biodiversity into the Built Environment Rehabilitation Practice.  His current work is titled Reconciling Heritage and Sustainability in Canadian Conservation Higher Education.  This paper pushes the reader to think critically about sustainability as our actions as educators may not be the same as our words (hence the reconciliation).  His final project “Historic Sights and Sounds Long Gone: Ecological Reflections on the College of Charleston’s Campus,” uses the College of Charleston as a case study to demonstrate how the historic campus founded 1770 can never be what it originally was. The the Live Oak trees dripping with Spanish moss are a historical fiction that was developed in more recent decades based on stereotypes about the South. The original American Elm trees were wiped out on campus by Dutch Elm disease.  Now an endangered species, the Dutch Elm trees were also roosts for passing flocks of 200-300 Carolina parakeets, which have also gone extinct. Thus, we cannot see or hear what the campus was originally like because of the ecological damage. 

  • February 25, 2022

    No Meeting. 

  • January 28, 2022

    Historical Methods for Environmental Baselines with Thomas Lekan and Carol Boggs, University of South Carolina and Loren McClenachan, University of Victoria
    How have historical methods supported the reconstruction of populations, community structures, and landscape features?  Environmental baselines serve as reference points for restoration, conservation, and policy efforts, and our January session will call into question the best practices for  historical research projects that stand to impact species survival, climate change resiliency, and the integrity of ecosystems.   Our first speaker, Loren McClenachan, asks how historians can better partner with scientists to develop rigorous archival and applied methods to support understandings of environmental change.  As the Canada Research Chair of Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria, McClenachan specializes in the development of historical baselines of for marine animals, including marine fish, turtles, and mammals.  Her papers rely heavily on secondary sources and also engage with historical photographs, newspaper articles, and restaurant menus to document and quantify historical change. These results have links to marine conservation and management, and her work also addresses the implications of and pathways for using historical data in policy contexts.   Our second speaker, Thomas Lekan, is Professor of History and Associate Professor of Earth, Ocean & Environment at the University of South Carolina.  As a fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, Lekan advised the group "Baselining Nature" and wrote the introduction for the subsequent special issue of E Nature and Space.  Lekan will team up with his colleague Carol Boggs, who focuses on the conservation biology of native butterflies.  As Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of South Carolina, Boggs uses historical documents as data sets and has co-taught courses on the intersection of historical methods and conservation biology.  

  • November 19, 2021

    Historic Performances: Uncovering the intangible heritage of historic environmental practices by Henrik Schoenefeldt, Professor for Sustainability in Architectural Heritage, University of Kent, UK
    Dr. Reid Goes to Liverpool  by Vidar Lerum, Associate Professor Emeritus, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign 
    Building on his research of the last 15 years, Prof. Schoenefeldt will explore how a new and more critical understanding can be gained through the study of historic experiences of technologies. The focus of much research on the history of environmental design in architecture has been on the physical technology. The study of technology alone, however, only provides a limited understanding of the nature of historic approaches to environmental control. Using the Houses of Parliament as a case study, Prof. Schoenefeld will speak on the concept of a 'post-occupancy history' of architecture (PoH). Derived from the modern phrase 'post-occupancy evaluation,' post-occupancy history is concerned with the study of historic experiences of buildings in use as well as the study of historic methods of building management and evaluation. In this talk Prof. Schoenefeldt argues that historic research can provide an instrument to reconstruct historic engagements with the performance of buildings, taking into account the role of users, operating staff and scientists.  
    Dr. Lerum’s talk will delve into the “archeology of historical and contemporary buildings.” Inspired by Michel Foucault’s work on the Archeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language (1969), his research centers on the assessed performance of built and actively used objects of architectural design.  For example, at the age of 22, the young architect Harvey Lonsdale Elmes found himself the winner of an architecture competition for St George’s Hall in Liverpool, a large and prestigious project for a civic building in the rising maritime mercantile city in the north-west. Elmes’ competition entry was chosen as the winner from among 75 submissions. In addition to building a new grand concert hall, the Liverpool Corporation also saw the need to build Courts of Assize. The competition for this project was again won by Elmes, this time competing with 88 other entrants. It is in this setting that Harvey Lonsdale Elmes went to see Dr. David Boswell Reid. The young architect was eager to learn about Dr. Reid’s experiments with heating and ventilation. He followed closely as the work at the temporary House of Commons progressed and he visited Dr. Reid’s testing facilities at his chemistry laboratory, which at this time had been expanded into a research facility for experimental studies of the movement of air and smoke under changing environmental conditions (Reid, 1855).  Using photographs, drawings, sections, plans and diagrams which are painstakingly redrawn for consistency and clarity, Lerum will compare works of architecture noted in his book Sustainable Bulding Design:  Learning from Nineteenth-century Innovations.  He will emphasize on the artistry of the masters of architecture who came before.
    Access readings here or download the attached ZIP file:

  • October 22, 2021

    Founded immediately in the wake of the election of Donald Trump, the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) brought together scholars, including several historians, who sought to ply their professional skills collectively against the Trump assault on the nation's environmental agencies and laws. A co-founder of the group, Chris Sellers, Professor of History at Stony Brook University, helped inaugurate an oral history interviewing project that elevated the voices and experiences of an EPA whose staff had come "under siege." This and other EDGI initiatives successfully drew media attention while also leading to prominent academic articles and other digital initiatives. Sellers will also speak about the Environmental History Action Collaborative, an initiative born out of members of the American Society for Environmental History that eventually found a home within EDGI.