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.

Participants may send reports or concerns about violations of this policy to

Upcoming Meetings

  • Friday, December 17, 2021 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm EST

    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 explorers topics such as Cultural Relationships with Nature, Ecology, Biodiversity, Energy, and Resource Systems; and Integrating 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 campus as a case study to demonstrate how the historic campus (founded 1770) can’t be again what it originally was. The the Live Oak trees dripping with Spanish moss is a historical fiction that was developed in more recent decades based on stereotypes about the South. The reasons for this is that the original trees were American Elm (wiped out on campus by Dutch Elm disease, now endangered species) which were also roosts for passing flocks of 200-300 Carolina parakeets (also extinct since 1918). Thus, we can’t see or hear what the campus was originally like because of the ecological damage. 

  • Friday, January 28, 2022 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm EST


  • Friday, February 25, 2022 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm EST


  • Friday, March 25, 2022 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm EDT


  • Friday, April 22, 2022 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm EDT


  • Friday, May 27, 2022 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm EDT


Past Meetings

  • 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


Group Conveners

  • Fredrik Albritton Jonsson

    Fredrik Albritton Jonsson is Associate Professor of History, and of Conceptual and Historical Studies in Science, at the University of Chicago. He specializes in British history, with a focus on questions of environmental change, science, and political economy inthe period 1700-1900.


  • acoombs's picture

    Amy Coombs

    Amy Coombs recently graduated from The University of Chicago with a Ph.D. in the Department of History, Fields of Britain, Environment, and Political Economy. Drawing from her M.S. in Forestry and Natural Resources from Purdue, her work focuses on landscape reconstructions to forward economic models of agriculture and inform contemporary sustainable farming. She has five years of experience as an environmental consultant in policy and communications at the NOAA-funded International Monitoring Control and Surveillance Network, which was formed in 2000 with the signing of the Santiago Declaration and provides capacity building training for the global fisheries law enforcement community. She is currently revising her dissertation into a book about the use of Brassica napus for soil pest suppresion and soil improvement.  


  • ryan.driskell.tate's picture

    Ryan Driskell Tate

    Ryan Driskell Tate is a Climate and Energy Research Analyst at Global Energy Monitor, with nearly a decade of experience studying the coal industry. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Review of Books, and more. He received his Ph.D. in history from Rutgers University, and he is currently completing a book on the history of coal development in the Powder River Basin over the last half century.


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