International workshop organized by the Department of History of York University and the Graduate School “Human Development in Landscapes” of Christian-Albrechts-Universität Kiel, to be held in Toronto on 26-27 March 2010.
Landscapes can be understood as the natural environments in which a society is embedded, or as the set of representations with which members of a society observe and describe a region and give it significance. Modern conceptions of landscapes as aesthetic subjects resulted from a historical evolution that began in Renaissance Europe, whereas other cultures developed different traditions of understanding their environment – in medieval times, for instance, symbolic interpretations were in the foreground: nature was a book in which man could learn about God. Landscapes can be defined, in the words of Denis E. Cosgrove, as “visibly distinct regions.” It is clear that the idea of landscape is dependant on the one hand on the material reality of a given region, on the other hand on the sense attached to it by human beings beholding it.
Historical and environmental research of the last decades makes clear that landscapes are always in varying degrees the product of interactions between human societies and their environment. Even areas perceived as natural or untouched have been modified by man. These transformations are mostly due to the exploitation of resources needed to sustain human
communities. In pre-modern Europe even what was considered to be terra inculta – the forest – was extensively used for its resources. Medieval observers already noted that human activities were changing their natural surroundings, although they were not aware of the complexity of these processes. Conversely it has been argued that societies themselves have been in a significant part shaped by their natural environment and the resources available. The cultural and natural elements are interdependent.
Given these observations, it is quite obvious that historical landscape research should focus simultaneously on the reconstruction of the environmental features as they existed and were transformed in previous periods as well as on the understanding societies had of these, on the systems that regulated the use of available resources, and how they could change in the course of time. Such a goal can only be achieved by an interdisciplinary approach. Recent developments in science and new methods in archaeology deliver information that would not have been possible to obtain even just a few decades ago. New questionings of the existing documentary sources open new possibilities. Only through communication between scholarly disciplines can a comprehensive understanding be pursued.
Medieval Europe east of the Elbe presents an interesting field for the investigation of landscape transformations. Whereas even the Rhineland was in Antiquity strongly influenced by Roman culture and was closely linked to Western Europe in the early medieval Frankish kingdoms, the regions along the Elbe and eastwards entered only later in the light of history, against a very different background. The East Central European area is characterized by many features that clearly distinguish it from the Mediterranean and many western European regions throughout the Middle Ages. Generally independent developments concerning society, economy, and religion led to the creation of a distinct cultural area. The fact that it never belonged to the Roman Empire had long-lasting consequences on the settlement patterns. The colonization movement of the high Middle Ages brought with it quick transformations in resource management especially when compared to the rather drawn out evolution of western Europe. Latin cultural traditions had a very different impact on regions that had been scarcely noticed, if at all, by Roman authors. All of this makes this area of the European continent – between the Elbe in the West, the Danube in the south and the steppes in the East – attractive for a consideration of large-scale and longue durée interactions between landscapes and societies.
The workshop will bring together a small group of young scholars (16 papers) from North America and Europe working in the fields of archaeology, history, palaeobotany and palaeozoology.
Papers in the fields of history, archaeology and related disciplines are invited. The papers should present a link with parts of Europe outside the borders of the Roman Empire as well as with environmental and/or social history. The main focus will be on the medieval period but papers dealing with Antiquity are invited too. Doctoral students and young scholars will be particularly considered.
Please send a short abstract (less than one page) and a CV by email to one of the organizers by 20 October 2009.
Invitations will depend upon available funding.
A publication following the workshop is considered.
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