History and Climate Change: Africa, Indigenous & Latin America, South Asia

This workshop aims to bring together climate scientists, historians and other scholars interested in past climate change and its impacts on human societies. Climate change affects all aspects of life and human endeavors – understanding its social, cultural, political and economic implications is essential for successfully preparing for its impacts. From a historical perspective, understanding both how the climate has changed in the past and the different ways communities responded to those changes – whether it intensified or mitigated inequalities, for example – deepens our understanding of the past, which in turn gives us vital insights into the future. But revealing these insights requires building collaborations across multiple fields and ultimately a sincere investment in interdisciplinary scholarship.

Historians and climate scientists have increasingly begun collaborating to better understand both how historical evidence can improve our knowledge of past climate change and how high-resolution (seasonal to annual) paleoclimate data can inform our understanding of the role that climate has played in human history. Despite important progress toward these outcomes, it remains critical to better understand the data each field produces and to more effectively articulate how climate scientists and historians can work together to ask and answer questions that expand our knowledge of past climate and human history.

Collaborative work and other attempts to foster dialog between the fields has focused primarily on Europe and North America, and, to a lesser extent on East Asia. These focus areas are largely a function of their comparatively extensive data availability. From a paleoclimatology perspective, the existence of high-resolution climate proxies and the observational data necessary to calibrate them are often focused in the mid-tohigh latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. Easily datable historical evidence tends to come from written archives and for a range of reasons those are also more readily available in these focus areas. Both climate scientists and historians, therefore, have to look beyond our traditional foci in order to reconstruct the deeper past in many parts of Africa, South Asia, Latin America and the Indigenous Americas. In doing so, it is critical to recognize the importance of indigenous forms of knowing and knowledge production.

Faculty Sponsor: 

Rhiannon Stephens

Associate Professor of History


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