Sustainability and Collapse in Past Societies (ARC2123)

15 credits

Can we learn any lessons for sustainable futures by studying human-environment relationships in ancient societies? Although we often envisioned the world of ancient people as a land of pristine natural beauty and untouched environments, the study of past coupled human environmental systems show us that this was not always the case. On the contrary, many past societies had heavily impacted their environments and/or have been impacted by catastrophic natural events to the extent that social and political systems need to be transformed or ultimately collapsed. Drawing on a wide range of interdisciplinary case studies from all around the world –from El Niño events in the Pacific coast in pre-Columbian Peru to the Little Ice Age in Medieval Europe– in this module we are going to examine the impact that past societies had on their world. More importantly, we will discuss if there are any valuable lessons from the past that can inform future sustainable land-use policies.