Begun in 2015, CCHRI is an international interdisciplinary project to bring together archaeologists, historians and climate historians as well as paleoenvironmentalists in an endeavour to transcend disciplinary boundaries and avoid mutual misunderstanding in respect of the use and application of data. The project was established through the History Department at Princeton University, USA, in order to promote and develop better integration and collaboration between social, human and natural sciences relevant to past responses to environmental and related challenges.
Resilience and sustainability are two key foci, together with work to improve and increase methodological coherence through joint projects and publication, education and public information. CCHRI has three main activity streams: annual public lectures, research colloquia devoted to specific topics; and introductory workshops aimed specifically at junior scholars.
Our focus is historical societal resilience and sustainability in the face of both environmental and climatic as well as anthropogenic challenges and hazards. Based at Princeton University, the core group consists of some 20 scholars in the fields of history and archaeology, the paleo-environmental and paleoclimate sciences, climate modeling and social anthropology, based at universities or research institutions. The initial focus was the pre-modern eastern Mediterranean, but coverage has been considerably expanded to incorporate work on central and eastern Asia, Europe, the pre-Columbian Americas and Africa.
Since its inception, CCHRI has run a number of introductory workshops (in the USA, Turkey and Europe), held five research colloquia, hosted several guest lectures at Princeton, co-organised several international conferences, and its members have published a large number of multi-authored papers, published in historical and archaeological as well as scientific journals.
CCHRI has three main activity streams: annual public lectures, research colloquia devoted to specific topics; and introductory workshops aimed specifically at junior scholars. Research into socio-environmental resilience is dominated by the natural and social sciences, whereas historians have so far had only limited impact on these discussions. Most historical research has focused on social systems and social impacts and has exploited almost exclusively textual evidence.
Collaboration between historians and paleoscientists faces a series of substantial methodological and practical challenges because each has different approaches to causal relationships. At the same time, we argue that a lack of understanding of the complexity of past socio-environmental interactions has often led to misguided strategic thinking and failures in planning for resource management as well as longer-term development. In light of current concerns about environmental degradation, making policy-makers more aware of the results of relevant historical research, for example in the context of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, can only be of benefit.
Recent decades have seen an enormous growth in our knowledge of climate change. We can now begin to apply this data in a collective effort to understand complex social and cultural change at both the macro- and the micro-level. We hope at the same time to generate new insight into the debates on socio-ecological resilience, which are crucial for our understanding of current global environmental changes and the relevant policy making.
Connections with PAGES
Our current activities and aims directly reflect some of the key mission aims of the PAGES program, in particular within the framework of the Humans theme: Human–Earth System Interaction, since our research aims to understand human-environmental interactions from prehistory to the recent past. In this respect projects within the 2k Network and the PEOPLE 3000 group are of particular relevance; our colloquia are designed to address key challenges of interpreting different and often non-commensurable data; and the educational aspect of our program is intended to encourage junior scientists/scholars to collaborate and work within productive team-based contexts.
We have a strongly internationalist approach and involve scholars from the regions in which our historical and paleoenvironmental work is located. We also have an interest in past sustainability strategies and habits and have been actively pursuing a research agenda aimed at relating past strategies, both planned and unplanned, whether managed by elites or by producers, to societal structure, culture and institutions. As noted above, a historical perspective, represented by specialist historians who are able to work closely with scholars in the paleosciences, remains still a substantial gap in the profile of research into past environmental change. Our group also aims to challenge this absence and to encourage historians to engage more directly and regularly with the paleosciences, in particular through colloquia and workshops, but also through the pursuit of collaborative research projects, data sharing and the generation of integrated and holistic analyses.
The group also has connections with the Human Ecodynamics Research Center, City University of New York; the Princeton Environmental Institute; the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies; the Max-Planck-Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany; and we have close connections with the Climate History Network through several of its members.
The CCHRI is ongoing, supported by funds raised locally from Princeton University and other institutions at which core members are based. Current research plans and funds permit activities continuing until at least 2025, with the strong presumption of continuity thereafter.
The current main project is a SESYNC Pursuit entitled: Past answers to current concerns: Historical cases of navigating socio-environmental stress, supported by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center at Annapolis, Md. (U Maryland) and now at the half-way stage.
The group will hold its annual colloquium, on Health and environment in pre-modernity, at Georgetown University on 6-7 October 2021.
Outputs and products
Several team-authored publications are in press or in preparation; CCHRI has also inaugurated a monograph series with Oxford University Press (Interdisciplinary Approaches to premodern societies and environments).
Our SESYNC project will result in several publications, including a review of the field as well as a concrete comparative analysis of the case studies. Publications by sub-groups within the broader team are ongoing on a range of separate topics, including, for example, food supply and challenges to resource-management in the Roman and post-Roman world as well as the historical background to the SDGs. Since its inception, project members have worked on several collaborative projects and generated a substantial number of team- and single-author publications.
We are currently establishing connections with policymakers in Germany through our new initiative, the Princeton-Max Planck Advisory Panel on Environmental History and Policy (EnvHist4P) and similarly through our association with the BRIDGES Sustainability Science Coalition within the UNESCO Management of Social Transformations Programme. Our SESYNC project similarly is directly concerned with developing better communications between the study of past environmental change and societal transformation and those involved in future sustainability policy and planning.
The project was initiated and is directed by Dr John Haldon (Princeton); he is supported by Dr Janet Kay (Princeton), Dr. Lee Mordechai (Hebrew University, Jerusalem), Dr Timothy Newfield (Georgetown University), all co-directors. Key junior scholars within the core group include Dr Merle Eisenberg (U Maryland) and Dr Jordan Pickett (U Georgia). Other core members include: Dr Adam Izdebski (MPI, Jena), Dr Arlene Rosen (U Texas at Austin), Dr Neil Roberts (Plymouth and Oxford), Dr Warren Eastwood (Birmingham); Dr Elena Xoplaki (Giessen), Dr Jürgen Luterbacher (Geneva), Dr Dominik Fleitmann (Basel), Dr Inga Labuhn (Bremen), Dr Nicola Di Cosmo (Princeton).