Collapse! What Collapse? A workshop at Yale October 20-22, 2017 | Yale Initiative For The Study Of Antiquity And The Premodern World

July 20, 2017

Humanities/Humanity Faculty Workshop, Whitney Humanities Center

Collapse! What Collapse?
(downloadable .pdf)

Societal adaptations to abrupt climate changes before global warming.
A workshop at Yale October 20-22, 2017.
Harvey Weiss, organizer Limited seating by reservation.
Please contact Harvey Weiss at harvey.weiss for details regarding registration

Co-sponsors:
Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies, Franke Program in Science and the Humanities, Council on Archaeological Studies, Yale Environmental History, Yale University Tell Leilan Project
Faculty sponsors:
Richard Burger (Anthropology), Michael Dove (Anthropology, F&ES), Joseph Manning (History, Classics), Robert Mendelsohn (F&ES, Economics), Harvey Weiss (Environmental Studies, F&ES)
* * *
     Present global warming is rapid and anthropogenic, the product of industrial age greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This global warming is projected by scientific researchers and political leaders to threaten the continued viability of (1) global coastal communities, (2) traditional agriculture in Asian, African, and South American regions, 3) industrialized agriculture in European and North American regions, and 4) health, morbidity, and mortality in both industrialized and industrializing nations. In consideration of the rapidity and magnitude of GHG climate-change effects, global scientific and political communities have developed and encouraged two kinds of strategies: (1) mitigation strategies to reduce GHG emissions and their effects and (2) adaptation strategies that allow threatened global nations and communities to adapt in response to 21st and 22nd century GHG climate changes (IPCC 2014; Mendelsohn, Dinar, Williams 2006). The expectation is that mitigation and adaptation may provide for minimization of climate change effects to a level that ensures the sustainable resilience of nations and communities.
     Will these strategies be adopted and prove effective? This is a question that drives much current social and economic science research on climate change (IPCC, 2014; Hsiang, et al. 2017). However, the fundamental investigation into and exploration of societies and global warming, resides within history and archaeology and anthropology (Barnes et al 2013; Dove, ed. 2014). How was sustainable resilience accomplished in the past?
     Pre-industrial climates and climate changes were not anthropogenic, of course, but exclusively natural. Their abruptness, magnitude, and duration, however, varied considerably and regionally, and often exceeded the extremes projected for present GHG climate change. Hence the history of societal adaptations to pre-industrial climate change is the necessary guide to adaptive creativity, receptivity, and effectiveness. That history can be qualified and quantified: How have societies adapted in the past and with what “success”?
     Two kinds of records document the climate changes of the past. The instrumental record contains temperature and precipitation values that define climate and prominent climate changes, such as the northern hemisphere’s Medieval Warm Epoch and the Little Ice Age, ca. 1300–1850 BC (Mann et al. 2009; Bradley, Warner, & Diaz 2016). The paleoclimate record utilizes climate proxies derived from marine, lake, glacial, and speleothem cores and tree rings that reflect climate values derived from proxy transfer functions. Moreover, the paleoclimate record documents natural climate changes from 12,000 years ago through the eighteenth century (Bradley 2014).
     Together, these two kinds of past climate records define both regional and global climate changes, many abrupt in onset and termination, that challenged societies’ sustainable resilience and forced adaptive responses at historically significant junctures. It is these climate changes and adaptive responses that have drawn wide academic attention and intense research efforts, because in some historically significant cases the climate changes are (1) only known in low-resolution and (2) the adaptive societal responses are defined without consensus from different historical and archaeological perspectives—that is, was the response collapse or adaptive success, or is collapse in fact adaptation in some historical situations?
   The purpose of this two-day Yale faculty workshop is to examine six well-known yet most debated and historically consequential episodes of past climate change and adaptive societal responses:
1. 2200 BC global megadrought and societal adaptations in East Asia and West Asia;
2. Maya collapse and regional abandonment at 8th century AD droughts;
3. Ancestral Pueblo collapse and migration at the 13th century AD “Great Drought”;
4. Little Ice Age (16th to 19th centuries AD) European agricultural failure, depopulation, revolution, and rebirth;
5. West Asian Little Ice Age and Ottoman collapse in the 17th century AD;
6. Andean Medieval Climate Anomaly, Little Ice Age climate changes mid-16th to early 18th centuries AD, and Inka expansion.
     The workshop will offer participants two sets of data for each episode: (1) the most recent instrumental or paleoclimate records presented and analyzed by leading scientists from US universities, and (2) the most recent archaeological and historical records, presented and analyzed by leading societal response investigators, including several Yale faculty.
     The workshop is being structured as (1) pre-workshop reading of invitees’ suggested articles, (2) two or three workshop presentations each morning and afternoon, (3) each followed by Yale faculty participants’ analysis and discussion, (4) with a concluding summary discussion of outstanding issues and research problems.
Northeast Syria, dry-farming harvest transport, view East from Tell ‘Aid (H. Weiss, July 1981).

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