In the first focus of my research, I demonstrate that natural disasters such as earthquakes and droughts were not enough to cause societal change by themselves; rather, they functioned as a sort of stress-test to society. Resilient societies could recover fairly quickly and perhaps learn to better adapt to future similar events, while vulnerable societies would change in one or more key measures (such as population size, economic complexity, or settlement patterns). The theoretical framework behind this approach, together with separate discussions of earthquakes in the Roman/Byzantine Empire and flooding in ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian societies, will be published in the Journal of Human Ecology.
The second focus of my research is part of an upcoming project, tentatively titled "Rugged Resilience: Cities and the Environment in the Late Antique Eastern Mediterranean". Through a series of case studies, this project will examine how different cities in the late antique Levant responded to environmental stress. The first case study is about the metropolis of Antioch (modern Antakya, Turkey), one of the largest cities in the ancient world. This forthcoming contribution won the Peter R. Brown prize for 2017, and will be published in the journal Late Antique Archaeology.
The third theme of my environmental history research is more directly related to the synthesis we emphasize at the CCHRI. In a publication at the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences (under review) I discuss how history can contribute to current work on uncovering ancient climate. This direction of research has been growing in the natural sciences as part of recent scholarly and popular interest in climate change and cases of societal decline and collapse. I argue that history offers us a path to more nuanced interpretations than environmental determinism (the belief that a society's environment determines most or all of its fate).
For more information please visit Climate Change and History Research Initiative