Sources Of Information

Not only written documents, but also maps, engravings, pieces of art, instruments, and artifacts have been widely used as sources of information in environmental history. Other less common records investigated are farmers' logs and travelers' diaries, meteorological and phenological records, terrestrial and aerial photographs, and proxy data in the natural sciences. Proxy data are supplied by a heterogeneous set of information sources, with varied spatial and time coverage, record continuity, and degree of uncertainty in regards to dating. Numerous environmental processes have not been registered, for they have been neglected, remained unnoticed, or had non-human agents or actors.

Natural surrogates include: glaciological (ice cores, glaciers), geological (sedimentary rocks, ocean and terrestrial sediments), and biological (coral reefs, pollen deposits, tree rings) records, containing information on past environmental conditions that replace the actual data on those processes. Oral history captures the information obtained from memories and perceptions, from people who were witnesses or actors of past events and processes, or simple recipients of information. The interviewer collects data not available from other sources or in cultures where written documentation is rare, but with an extremely rich oral tradition. Nevertheless, memory, as a source of information, is interpreted through past and present perceptions, attitudes, and values, holding intrinsic difficulties for its interpretation.

Landscape archaeologists survey and conduct excavations in past cultural landscapes, interpreting and recording anthropogenic evidences of occupation and modifications of the natural landscape as the result of human adaptation to the resources available in the natural environment. The approach in the field has changed by adjusting the scale of study. While initially, research in archaeology was conducted in individual sites, understood as separate documents, the scope moved to studying settlement systems and then to compiling information in the gaps, of interstices, between sites.

The reconstruction of past landscapes and land use practices over the long term and at a geographical mid-scale developed from the environmental archaeology approach in the 1950s. The evidence comes from the constituents of the built environment, roads, fossilized field systems such as agricultural plots and walls, and water infrastructures in the form of ditches for draining or irrigating.

The protection and proper management of archaeological sites sometimes becomes subject to ethical debate when sites are presently inhabited or are claimed by successors of the former population, so that use has to be negotiated with the descendant communities.

The analysis of the ample range of complex and interrelated social, political, cultural or technological facets of the human system leads to interactions with other disciplines. Environmental history, while rooted in landscape history, developed as a multidis-ciplinary field of study where the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences come together. Landscape remained as a central topic, but many other matters are studied. Economic history, environmental sociology, cultural ecology, political ecology, and historical geography provided the conceptual and methodological background, although the process of systematization and consolidation still continues in all these fields due to their recent origins.

According to the hybridization model elaborated by Mattei Dogan and Robert Pahre, scientific disciplines undergo a twofold process, fragmentation and recombination. Gradually, subjects increase their field of study and, eventually, become too broad for scholars to comprise, so that the discipline fragments into subfields and the practitioners move toward the margins of the field. Specialists from peripheral sub-fields interact, filling in the gaps between sciences and recombine the fragmented subdisciplines into a new hybrid. Innovation takes place with the cross-fertilization of concepts, theories, methods, or paradigms, and new themes of study arise. Ultimately, the new hybrid may become completely independent or retain a dual character.

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