From the Archives

In this series, our contributing editors reflect on a set of articles from the archives of American Anthropologist that speaks to their research interests.


Fisher, Christopher T., and Gary M. Feinman. 2005. “Introduction to ‘Landscapes over Time.’” 

Hardesty, Donald L. 2007. “Perspectives on Global‐Change Archaeology.” 

Harrison‐Buck, Eleanor. 2014. “Anthropological Archaeology in 2013: The Search for Truth(s).” 

Rodning, Christopher. 2010. “Place, Landscape, and Environment: Anthropological Archaeology in 2009.” 


My doctoral research explores the extent and degree to which past inhabitants in Antigua have shaped contemporary landscape stability and soil quality. Specifically, my research addresses how the human-environment dialectic over the last two thousand years impacts the socioeconomic and environmental realities of contemporary Antiguan farmers. Using local collaboration, my research seeks to provide a framework for mitigating contemporary environmental challenges and informing future land-use trajectories. The theoretical underpinnings of historical ecology and the methodological approaches of geoarchaeology provide a feasible way to examine the environmental and socioeconomic legacies of millennia of human-environment interaction in Antigua—an approach informed in part by the articles discussed here.

Critical engagement with historical ecology research within the discipline of anthropology has increased over the last couple of decades. Multiscalar and multitemporal anthropological analysis of the intricacies inherent in the human-environment dialectic—specifically, its nonlinearity and multiple modes of path dependency—has necessitated the incorporation of more interdisciplinary theoretical and methodological approaches. The list of references below serves as a brief review of those articles published in American Anthropologist since 2005 that not only engage historical ecology but have also influenced my ongoing doctoral research in Antigua, West Indies.

Erosion of the “A” and “B” horizons, exposing the underlying “C” horizon in Antigua, West Indies. Pre-Columbian and Historic period landscape-management practices have lead to increased erosion events and a decrease in soil quality across the contemporary landscape. (Photograph by author)

Fisher and Feinman (2005) argue that historical ecology research is inherently interdisciplinary, which requires anthropologists to develop an effective means of collaboration across disciplines. Furthermore, they highlight anthropology’s increasing recognition that many contemporary challenges are the legacies of sociocultural and natural circumstances of the past. Three key debates emerged in anthropological historical ecology research at the turn of the twenty-first century. First, how do we as anthropologists effectively communicate about long-term human-environmental processes across disciplines? Second, what shared methods and theories can help inform future historical ecology investigations? Finally, where do we as practicing anthropologists go from here? Fisher and Feinman’s article is a turning point for discussing feasible ways to address the growing interdisciplinary nature of historical ecology questions and develop new interdisciplinary research agendas. Three themes have consistently structured historical ecology research since 2005: the recursive human-environment relationship; the landscape as an entity imbued with cultural value; and the landscape as a changing, multiscalar, and multitemporal construct (Fisher and Feinman 2005). These themes pervade the articles highlighted here as well as the historical ecology research published more widely within American Anthropologist.

The next article in American Anthropologist after Fisher and Feinman (2005) to debate the means and methods of making anthropological historical ecology research interdisciplinary was Hardesty’s “Perspectives on Global-Change Archaeology” (2007). Hardesty argues for an effective, cross-disciplinary means of studying the sociocultural and historical constructs that shape contemporary environmental processes and future mitigation strategies. Specifically, global-change archaeology is a theoretical construct designed to provide a holistic and explanatory mode of analysis to multitemporal investigations of the reciprocal human-environmental relationship. Hardesty encapsulates the discipline’s emphasis on what Rodning (2010, 183) argues is the view of contemporary landscapes as “social and ideational aspects of past landscapes and the built environment.” Rodning’s arguments came at a time of increasing emphasis on anthropological archaeology research, which in turn sought to incorporate a greater sense of human agency in historical ecology research. Specifically, historical ecology investigations began to emphasize the relationship between people, places, and spaces—both in the present and the past. Rodning argues that anthropological archaeology is helping to incorporate distinct themes of identity, power, and economy into historical ecology investigations (Harrison-Buck 2014). Harrison-Buck argues that greater focus on interdisciplinary research will only serve to strengthen the importance of an anthropological perspective, especially in historical ecology research. She also argues that anthropologists need to critically reevaluate variability in land-management decisions and their resulting manifestations on the landscape. Furthermore, Harrison-Buck argues that the discipline needs to assess our own Western construction of environmental knowledge, building not only interdisciplinary connections but also greater connections with local populations.

All four articles discussed here have influenced the ideas behind my doctoral research. Specifically, my examination of the human-environment dialectic in Antigua requires the examination of nearly two thousand years of anthropogenic landscape modification. The increasingly interdisciplinary methodological and theoretical considerations of historical ecology underscore my approach to examining how millennia of anthropogenic modification impacts the contemporary landscape. Most importantly, I ask: How do these interactions impact contemporary Antiguans? My research is strengthened by the incorporation of interdisciplinary methods and theories, first advocated by the articles below, and which allows my research to better inform of the legacies of inherited landscapes on contemporary populations.

Anthony Tricarico is a PhD candidate in anthropology at the University of South Florida.

CITE AS
Tricarico, Anthony. 2018. “Exploring the Human-Environment Dialectic.” American Anthropologist website, January 8.

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