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Tapping environmental history to recreate America's colonial hydrology

Environmental Science and Technology

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DOI: 10.1021/es102672c

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Abstract

Throughout American history water resources have played integral roles in shaping patterns of human settlement and networks of biological and economic exchange. In turn, humans have altered hydrologic systems to meet their needs. A paucity of climate and water discharge data for the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, however, has left America's preindustrial hydrology largely unstudied. As a result, there have been few detailed, quantifiable, regional assessments of hydrologic change between the time of first European settlement and the dawn of industrial expansion.

As scientists labor to understand present-day hydrologic systems and make predictions about the future, the value of expanding the geographic (1, 2) and temporal scopes (3, 4) of their studies has become increasingly evident. Pollen and tree-ring analyses have helped shed light on past climate and land-use patterns. But other nonscientific sources and methods can be equally revealing and in some cases complement empirical studies (5). This paper argues that environmental science, particularly that concerned with the human dimensions of water resources, stands to profit from using historical literature and archival sources. By considering work in environmental history, forging closer working relationships between the geophysical and social sciences, and seriously entertaining narratives as a form of evidence, environmental scientists can not only look farther into the past and across broader geographic areas, but they can also more accurately describe the nuances and complexities that define the ways humans have changed the world around them. In this paper, we present the recommendations of a multidisciplinary summer institute that developed 1) a conceptual and methodological framework for conducting historical hydrology, and 2) suggestions for ways that historical information can be used to inform the hydrologic sciences. Our intent here is to encourage further work along these or similar lines. We believe that future efforts that build on our famework and draw and expand upon the sources referenced below will produce scholarship of great utility to both environmental and social sciences.

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Article
Publication Subtype:
Journal Article
Title:
Tapping environmental history to recreate America's colonial hydrology
Series title:
Environmental Science and Technology
DOI:
10.1021/es102672c
Volume
44
Issue:
23
Year Published:
2010
Language:
English
Publisher:
ACS Publications
Publisher location:
Washington, D.C.
Contributing office(s):
California Water Science Center
Description:
6 p.
Larger Work Type:
Article
Larger Work Subtype:
Journal Article
Larger Work Title:
Environmental Science and Technology
First page:
8798
Last page:
8803
Country:
United States