Their current research seeks to identify and document the social, political, and economic elements of land use practice together with historical and environmental circumstance that combine to sustain a productive regional economy over the long term (centuries). Their larger project, underway for over a quarter century, pioneered an interdisciplinary theoretical and methodological framework termed historical ecology. Abundant data from a consistently productive temperate region with a long agrarian (6000 years) and industrial (2000 years) history (Burgundy, France) permit integrated analysis of socioeconomic and environmental change at local, regional, and global spatial scales and at time scales of year, decade, and century.
The project goal is to construct a model for the comparative study of enduring agrarian practice. Project objectives are to (1) trace the complex history of events and conditions that have both jeopardized and fostered sustainable land use strategies in an historically productive region, (2) identify key elements and relations of that practice, and (3) assess contemporary land use against the historical backdrop.
This project applies an integrated theoretical framework and mensurable concepts of diversity and flexibility to analyze landscape elements and land use strategies across time and space. The research can operationalize the problematic concept of sustainability, add a significant new historic dimension to the global sustainability dialogue, underscore the fundamental importance of region-based cultural knowledge and practice, and inform global and national agricultural policy decisions.
Their hypotheses, based on previous work with primarily earlier time periods and broader scales, are that even in industrial nation-states:
- Local knowledge-based smallholder land use strategies (e.g., scheduling, species diversity, use of microenvironments) maintain environmental integrity.
- Flexibility of choice, based on cultural and biotic diversity, is maintained through intergenerational transmission of local environmental knowledge.
- Interruption of this transmission compromises flexibility.
- Homogenization of the rural economy reduces flexibility and leads to the deterioration of key landscape elements.
- The loss of key landscape elements renders the rural environment economically and ecologically vulnerable.