Long-term socio-ecological research and environmental history
A long-term perspective is indispensable for understanding today’s sustainability challenges. Many of the current environmental problems are the result of long-term processes in the past. In addition, efforts at sustainable development need to consider the long-term effects and potential unintended side-effects of today’s decisions.
In the thematic area long-term socio-ecological research and environmental history, we investigate the changing interrelations of society and nature in a long-term perspective. Guided by a co-evolutionary understanding, we argue that societal practices shape the environment, affecting the availability of resources and the type and degree of pollution. On the other hand, the social and economic organization of societies are both cause and consequence of the respective societal metabolism and colonization efforts. One of our research foci is the investigation of sustainability challenges in the course of industrialization. We view the shift from local, solar- and biomass-based energy provision to the use of fossil energy carriers as a transition of socio-ecological regimes. This transition entails qualitative and quantitative changes in sustainability challenges. We investigate this process by critically using historical sources and data sets to apply methods like material and energy flow analyses for historical time periods.
We also work on the transformation of socio-natural sites. This concept describes the nexus of socio-natural arrangements and practices, aiming at overcoming the dichotomy of society and nature. We qualitatively and quantitatively employ the notion of socio-natural sites to various environmental history case studies, e.g. the changes in Vienna and its waterscape since the middle ages, or the opening of alpine landscapes to tourism. The relationship of societies to nature has both biophysical and symbolic features. We also study symbolic aspects of societal relations to nature focusing on changing perceptions and risk.
The Centre for Environmental History (ZUG) was founded in 2003. Today it is located at the Institute of Social Ecology. The centre provides a communication platform to promote networking among national and international scholars in the field of environmental history. ZUG curates an international lecture series (ZUG-Minisymposia), maintains the literature database Environmental History Database Austria (EHDA) and coordinates academic teaching in the field in and around Vienna.