William Bennet Munro History Seminar
Abstract: Over the course of the thousand years that made up the European Middle Ages, the Italian peninsula underwent dramatic social, political, and cultural transitions that are reflected in its landscapes. Human factors, such as new political alignments and shifting economic priorities combined with local environmental changes and broader climate shifts to completely transform Italy's varied ecological zones. Until recently, much of what we knew about these transformations was based on readings of just a handful of historical narratives. However, new advances in recovering past climatological and paleoecological information, and a renewed focus on archaeological data and archival sources, have enabled us to tell richer stories about how interactions between humans, their environment, and the climate played out on the landscapes of Italy. Among these new histories, this presentation will examine three in particular that highlight the new multidisciplinary approach on which they are based: the clashes between the wild landscape, agriculture, and silvo-pastoralism from the fifth to the ninth centuries in central Italy; the selective and managed reforestation of southern Italy during the period of Norman rule, and the "re-wilding" of the landscape across the peninsula following the arrival of the plague in the fourteenth century. Together, these examples demonstrate the continuous interplay and reciprocal influence among humans, landscape, and climate across Italy during the Middle Ages. They highlight in particular how the combination of paleoecological and historical approaches to environmental history offers both paths for new interdisciplinary research and new ways to understand the transformation of both "historical" landscapes and our own.