50 Key Questions

Example Questions

  • Is biodiversity a reflection of past and ongoing human activity?
  • What are the best indicators to differentiate between cultural and natural fires?
  • What non-domesticated plant species are markers of human acitivity?
  • Can we use species range extensions to infer human transplanting of plant species?
  • How do we help accomodate both traditional and modernized farming practices?
  • How do we identify all of the parties interested in a landscape where biodiversity is a contested issue?
  • How do we translate research into policy?
  • How do we communicate, conceptualize and integrate the temporal frames the different disciplines or research projects are concerned with?
  • How do we stress that the entirey of the past is not equally accessible, while still creating educational narratives?
  • Does historical ecology have to deal exclusively with the longue durée?
  • How do we use technology to visualize and communicate time?
  • How do we address the trepidation that some individuals, coming from diverse disciplinary backgrounds, express towards models?
  • How do we address the tendency of models to conflate?
  • How do we address false perceptions of what a model is?
  • How can historical ecology be made relevant for education?  



What is the survey for?

Similar to other publications with priority-setting questions for each discipline (e.g., in ecology, paleoecology), we intend to move toward 50 questions for historical ecology. We hope this exercise will help better define what historical ecology is and what it will look like in upcoming years. This is by no means an exclusive or exhaustive process - "defining" historical ecology in not an objective or stagnant process, nor is fully defining a fluid research program such as HE our primary goal. As Szabó notes in his recent reivew of Historical Ecology, practitioners come from a long line of theoretical and disciplnary backgrounds, manifesting their versions of historical ecology in a number of different ways. As such, this is meant to be a horizontal and consensus-driven process, guided by graduate students from different backgrounds, who are excited about the future of Historical Ecology.

The survey and subsequent workshops will culminate in a published paper authored by participants in the 2014 Uppsala workshop and the 2015 SFU conference and workshop. Please see the links we have provided here for both recent and foundational research in historical ecology.


The Process:  What happens with the Questions?

A committee of early stage researchers tasked with crowdsourcing Questions for Historical Ecology emerged from the 1st international workshop. This committee is noted to be dynamic and non-exclusive, though members must identify as early stage researchers. The focus on participation from early stage researchers is intended to bring a future looking perspective to the priority issues. The challenge now is to bring more voices to this discussion. The action plan for the committee is to:

1)  Open Question Survey: The survey is distributed amongst as broad an audience possible and asks what are questions for Historical Ecology? Individuals can list up to 20 questions. The survey was live for 1 full year. Participants were also asked to disclose their disciplinary background, geographic locale of research, institutional affiliation, and level of experience in academia.

2)  Edit Questions: Survey answers were pre-screened for duplicates then coded and divided amongst sub-groups (every question was coded with at least 2, and up to 5 groups). The sub-groups or nodes included: Biodiversity, Climate Change and Climate Variability, Methods and Applications, Resource Management and Governance, Multi-Scale and Multi-Disciplines, and Communication and Policy.

3)  Online Question Survey: An online survey circulated a week before the 2015 conference that asked contributors to rank the questions in each node in order of their preference. (Preference= what they think are priority research questions for a historical ecology research program). This resulted in (after deleting duplicates and quick edits) 355 questions.  

4)  Dialogue: On Saturday at the 2015 meeting at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, we divded workshop participants into 3 groups. Each group spent 1 hour evaluating, discussing, and debating the questions of a single node. A facilitaor for each group was provided to take notes, keep participants on topic, and to record the results (e.g., what the groups preferred questions were). Each group was able to rotate through 4 out of the 6 nodes. This resulted in 162 questions.

5) Dialogue Continued: On Sunday of the workshop series at SFU, a subset of the participants from the workshop the day before worked together and, by consensus, went through all 162 questions. Some questions were deleted based on group dialogue, for example we found ourselves asking "is there a temporal component to this question? Or is this simply a question for sociology?". Similar questions were collapsed into a single one, and the remaining were accepted "as is". This resulted in 83 questions.


[As of November 21, 2015, we are currently working towards this stage of the process]

6) Online Ranking: In the final round of edits, all 83 questions will be posted in an online survey for the broader Historical Ecology committee to "rank" questions in their preferred order.  

Who can take the survey?

Initially, all academics (junior and advanced) and related consultants took the first global survey. Questions were tallied and small initial edits were done by the NICHE organizing committee consisting of 6 PhD students from Canada, England, Sweden and the USA. The next two rounds included academics at all stages (~60 researchers from 4 continents). The final editing process will return to the broader global community.

The goal was to crowd-source questions from professionals at any stage in their career to gain a broad and diverse working list. Graduate students (with guidance from our academic elders) finalized initial edits as part of the Next Generation movement of historical ecologists (via IHOPE).