How can knowledge of long-term human-environmental interactions be developed and transformed so that it is relevant to the environmental problems of the contemporary world? The project examines the significance of emerging theoretical frameworks and concepts describing the dynamics of human-environmental interaction through time (the theories of co-evolution and amplification, among others) to contemporary debate of humanity’s proper role in the Anthropocene. Because agricultural production and food consumption are as significant to human health and well being as they are to the Earth’s environments, agricultural sustainability is one of the focal points of this project. Agriculture reflects what Philippe Descola describes as a community of practices expressing a particular sifting of the qualities of the world. In this sense, it indicates different kinds of environmental experience and knowledge. The persistence of agricultural complexes depends upon the continuing sensibility and viability of this knowledge; long-standing agroecological complexes can be seen as representations of humankind’s best (most effective, and perhaps most ethical) environmental sensibility.
In most scientific and policy discourse, however, including that in which the Anthropocene is most prominent, agricultural sustainability is framed in relation to an interpretation of human agricultural and societal development in which humankind’s cultural advances through time have been predicated on its increasing ability to control nature. Does agricultural sustainability indeed depend upon humankind achieving a “final” and “sustainable” mastery of agroecosystems, and—with a global population of 7+ billion—by extension, of the biosphere as a whole? This research project brings recent scholarship in anthropology, archeology, archaeobotany, ethnobotany, cultural ecology, and related subdisciplines to bear on this question.