Introduction to historical ecology
Historical ecology uses interdisciplinary synthesis to trace and evaluate the complex relationships between humans and the environment over the long term, typically traversing the course of centuries (Crumley 1994, 2007: 16). Its methodological backbone is the synthesis of long-series data produced by practitioners in diverse fields. Work in historical ecology is guided by theoretical postulates that recognize that understanding humans’ occupation of nearly every environmental niche and the diversity of human social structures requires broadly integrative methodologies (Balée 1998). Researchers bring about a difficult union between history and science, pay close attention to the relations of geographic and temporal scales, embrace human social complexity, and present findings in ways that are broadly accessible (Crumley 1994, 1996a, 1996b, 2007).
The methods of historical ecology have been shaped by a rejection of environmental determinism, an interdisciplinary historical synthesis, and interest in questions concerning the historical trajectories of the changes in humans’ relations with the environment. Because historical ecology melds data from science and the humanities, the following review of its methods draws from advances in geography, biology, ecology, history, sociology, and anthropology. That discussion is followed by examples of questions addressed by practitioners of historical ecology, an illustrative case study, and an evaluation of the future of the approach.