This is an online event.
Sponsored by: Archaeological Institute of America
In recent popular books, geographer Jared Diamond and geneticist David Reich have insisted that understanding the past helps us understand the present and the future. Their stories focus on both positive and negative reactions to environmental and demographic changes, but it is the emphasis on collapse and conflict that sparks public interest and media coverage. It is no surprise that such narratives have gained prominence in the context of our own debates about climate change and migration, at a time when both scientific breakthroughs and digital technologies offer us an unprecedented opportunity to collect new evidence about the human past and explore what the choices of past societies mean for the future. But many scholars see the oversimplified narratives of collapse and “population replacement” relayed to the public as problematic. This lecture will explore what we think we know about past societies and their responses to climate and demographic stress; how what we think we know isn’t always the whole picture; and how we can reach a more accurate understanding of the implications of the past for the future. It will do so through a case-study of the integration of archaeology into a “Grand Challenge” research agenda at a flagship state university, using the example of the Planet Texas 2050 project at the University of Texas at Austin. The speaker is a founding member of the organizing committee of this grand challenge project, which seeks to address the twin stressors of climate and demographic change in the state to ensure that it reaches the middle of the century as a resilient, equitable, and healthy place to live.
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