The Centre for Ancient Environmental Studies (formerly the Centre for Landscape Studies, expanded and relaunched in September 2020) facilitates the interdisciplinary study of human interactions with and representations of the environment of the Ancient Mediterranean, Europe, and West Asia. In addition to a core membership within the School of Classics, the Centre involves researchers of ancient environmental issues from other institutions worldwide as well as colleagues with environmental interests from other departments at the University of St Andrews.
Research on past environments covers many different components operating at multiple scales, including natural and built landscapes, animals, plants, natural resources, weather, climate, natural disasters, astronomy, and more. We employ a wide range of perspectives in order to study past human-environment interactions, combining archaeological and scientific methodologies with historical, cultural, literary, and ecocritical approaches.
As environmental issues have become more pressing in recent decades, people have increasingly turned to the past to situate contemporary ecological changes within a longer-term context. Ancient communities perceived and altered the natural world around them in a great range of different ways; the environment in turn shaped pre-modern societies and pre-modern art and literature in profound ways. The ancient world cannot truly be understood without considering both elements in conjunction. Moreover, these past human-environment interactions can also help us contextualize and understand our own relationship with the environment.
Despite the recent growth of environmental interests and perspectives, issues of ancient ecology still tend to occupy a marginal position in the environmental humanities. One of the distinctive contributions ancient environmental studies can make is in its inherent commitment to an interdisciplinary methodology. Researchers of the ancient world must often as a matter of course examine varied bodies of material: literary texts, inscriptions and other documentary records, as well as the visual arts and other material evidence ranging from pottery to human remains. This diversity of evidence and methodology makes the study of human-environment interactions in the ancient world particularly well suited to teaching about complex systems with interdisciplinary, problem-solving approaches.
Persistent disciplinary divides still tend to provide few opportunities for those in the humanities and social sciences interested in human-environment interactions to engage with their counterparts in the sciences, and vice versa The Centre aims to foster interdisciplinary dialogue by establishing a global network of ancient-literature scholars, art historians, historians, archaeologists, and environmental scientists engaged in the study of ancient and modern human-environment interactions.
The Centre also aims to bring ancient environmental issues into dialogue with related research on other periods and cultures. For example, one strand of the Centre’s recent work has involved collaborative and comparative work on representations of landscape in many different periods, with a special focus on premodern landscapes, from antiquity to the early modern period.