Dagomar Degroot, Georgetown University
Bathsheba Demuth, Brown University
Timothy James LeCain, Montana State University
The historians on this panel draw from a varied palette of research techniques shaped by the questions they asked in their research. How do satellite image databases function as an archive – and how can they be tied to historian’s ability to think vertically, connecting the atmosphere with the different subsoil regimes that help shape human history? How can textual and paleoclimate proxies - tree rings, ice cores, marine or lakebed sediments, the length of earth's day, as well as computer model "hind casts" of regional or local climate changes - be brought into dialogue with one another? How do historians use such data to think across different temporal and spatial scales? What does the environmental history of outer space look like? What tools do historians possess to write the idea emerging among biologists that animals other than humans – whales and wolves, for example – have cultures, into a discipline that has generally focused on humans? Do epistemic cultures other than history – particularly indigenous knowledge practices and histories – offer examples? How can observation, science, and new technologies from the physical and biological sciences be used alongside textual sources? While their separate presentations cover substantial temporal and geographical space, they share an interest in new methods and sources.
These questions point to an expansion of theoretical work on “neo-materialism” from its ontological and philosophical roots toward practical epistemological questions about how historians can use material things, organisms, and landscapes as sources – a sort of "post-anthropocentric" methodology. We ask, in essence, what we can learn about human history by bringing in the non-human things with which humans interact. The goal of the panel is to open a discussion of these methods for a broad audience of historians, and explore they can expand our questions, actors, and interpretive lenses.