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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Mar 27;115(13):3210-3218. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1716912115. Epub 2018 Mar 12.

History meets palaeoscience: Consilience and collaboration in studying past societal responses to environmental change.

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Department of History, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544;
Department of History, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544.
Department of History, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057.
Department of Biology, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057.
Department of Anthropology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, NV 89154-5003.
Institute of History, Jagiellonian University in Krakow, 31-007 Krakow, Poland.
School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ 08540.
Institute of History and Political Sciences, University of Bialystok, 15-420 Białystok, Poland.
Department of Geography, University of Lund, 221 00 Lund, Sweden.
School of Geography, Earth, and Environmental Sciences, Plymouth University, PL4 8AA Plymouth, United Kingdom.


History and archaeology have a well-established engagement with issues of premodern societal development and the interaction between physical and cultural environments; together, they offer a holistic view that can generate insights into the nature of cultural resilience and adaptation, as well as responses to catastrophe. Grasping the challenges that climate change presents and evolving appropriate policies that promote and support mitigation and adaptation requires not only an understanding of the science and the contemporary politics, but also an understanding of the history of the societies affected and in particular of their cultural logic. But whereas archaeologists have developed productive links with the paleosciences, historians have, on the whole, remained muted voices in the debate until recently. Here, we suggest several ways in which a consilience between the historical sciences and the natural sciences, including attention to even distant historical pasts, can deepen contemporary understanding of environmental change and its effects on human societies.


adaptation; collapse; consilience; history; resilience

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