Academic Service
Courses Developed and Students
Major Areas of Fieldwork
Overview of Publications
Course Outlines


Dissertation Advice
Elisabeth and Karl Butzer (Newfoundland, 1999)

Karl W. Butzer

In general, Karl Butzer’s research has focused on the relationships between the environment and prehistoric people or more recent societies. Geomorphology, sedimentology, and fossil soils offer powerful tools to reconstruct environmental and landscape change, while providing micro-stratigraphic frameworks for dating of human evolution and culture. In collaboration with a wide range of paleoanthropologists and archaeologists, he worked at both larger, regional scales and at the site-specific micro-level. He applied his empirical results to examine or model the paleoecology of the African australopithecines and Homo erectus, Neanderthal spatial behavior, and the first appearance of anatomically-modern people. His arguments that Homo sapiens sapiens was first present in South and East Africa during the Early Upper Pleistocene (135,000-65,000 years ago)  are supported by the biomolecular evidence (the “Eve hypothesis”).

During the second half of his career Karl Butzer turned to more recent, prehistoric and historical time ranges, in order to capture a finer-grained resolution on environment-society relations, especially when they can be informed by written records. His lifelong interest in Ancient Egypt and the skills of Elisabeth Butzer in archival research and interviewing have been key factors in facilitating this change of direction. Karl remains deeply engaged with an interdisciplinary environmental history, critical of the recent turn to a simplistic environmental determinism, and concerned about the prospects of global warming.

His choice of study areas reflects problems of particular interest, and a comparative approach to arid and strongly seasonal environments on four continents.  

Elisabeth K. Butzer

Karl’s co-author on various publications and long-term collaborator. She has published a micro-study of human ecology: Historia social de una comunidad tlaxcalteca (Saltillo, Mexico, 2001). This book reflects Elisabeth’s experience as a specialist in Medieval archives and anthropology, with extended research in Spain. Currently she is a Research Fellow in the Department of Geography and the Environment, at the University of Texas, Austin.  

Academic Trajectory

Born in Germany, August 19, 1934, Karl Butzer emigrated to England and then Canada as a child. He received two degrees at McGill University, Montreal: the B.Sc. in Mathematics (1954) and the M.Sc. in Meteorology and Geography (1955). With an Exchange Fellowship he studied in Bonn, Germany, where he received the Doctor of Science (Dr.rer.nat.) for Physical Geography and Ancient History (1957). 

After two years as a research associate of the German Academy of Sciences and Literature, he was Assistant, then Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1959-66). In 1966 he accepted an offer as Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the University of Chicago, where he was named the Henry Schultz Professor of Environmental Archaeology in 1980. At Chicago he was elected to various subdepartmental units, namely the Committee on African Studies, Committee on Evolutionary Biology, Committee on Archaeological Studies (Humanities), and as Professor in the Oriental Institute. 

During 1981-82, Karl Butzer was Chair Professor of Human Geography at the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology), Zurich, but returned to Chicago. Since 1984 he has been the Raymond Dickson Centennial Professor of Liberal Arts in the Department of Geography and the Environment at the University of Texas, Austin. In 1995 he was Cecil and Ida Green Visiting Professor at the University of British Columbia.

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Philae, Egypt, 1962


Giza, Egypt, 2001

Karl Butzer has been awarded the Busk Medal of the Royal Geographical Society (1979), the Fryxell Medal of the Society for American Archaeology (1981), the Henry Stopes Medal of the Geologists’ Association of London (1982), and the Pomerance Medal of the Archaeological Institute of America (1991).  

Other honors were awarded  by the Association of American Geographers (1968, 1986, 1999); the American Geographical Society (1985); the Geological Society of America (1985); and the Conference of Latin American Geographers (1997, 2002). He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1976-77.  

Butzer was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1984, and a Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences in 1996. 

Identified as a “Citation Centurion” in human geography, Transactions, Institute of British Geographers  (10 [1985] 222-34),  Karl has been a Plenary Speaker at meetings of the Association of American Geographers (1992) and the Society for American Archaeology (1994). His work has been discussed in Asian theoretical works such as Development of Historical Geography (in Japanese, ed. M. Hattori 1977, 209-13) and Theorists in contemporary Geography (in Korean, by Hyo-Hyun Sung, ed. Y.W. Kwon 1994, 143-60). A special edition of Geoarchaeology (ed. Bruce Gladfelter, 12 [1997] No. 4) was dedicated in honor of Karl Butzer. 

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Academic Service

During the course of his career, Butzer was executive officer of the Society of African Archaeologists (1971-73) and the Society for Archaeological Science (1979-80), and served as national counciler (1979-82) and as honors committee chair (1974-75) in the Association of American Geographers. He has presented endowed lectures at Yale, Southern Methodist University, the University of Texas at Arlington, the University of California at Berkeley,  and the University of California at Los Angeles. 

Since 1978 he has served as editor of the Journal of Archaeological Science, and was series editor of Prehistoric Archaeology and Ecology for the University of Chicago Press (16 volumes 1973-88). He has also been an editorial board member of Paleorient; Catena; Geographical Review; Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory; Progress in Physical Geography; Physical Geography; Quaternaria; Geomorphology; Palaeoecology of Africa; and Stratigraphic Newsletters. 

Karl Butzer has participated in or organized six Wenner-Gren Burg Wartenstein Symposia (Austria), 1960-1974.

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Burg Wartenstein, Austria, 1973

 Courses Developed and Students

At the University of Wisconsin (1960-66), Butzer regularly offered a course on Pleistocene environments and what is now called geoarchaeology, in addition to introductory physical geography, and graduate seminars in climatology and coastal geomorphology.

At the University of Chicago (1966-84), he taught advanced courses in physical and human geography, applied geomorphology, and environmental archaeology, as well as graduate seminars in settlement archaeology / geography  and archaeological theory.

Karl Butzer introduced a new program in human geography at the ETH-Zurich (1981-82), which continued to be implemented after his departure.

Since 1984 at the University of Texas  he offers graduate courses in geoarchaeology and environmental history; cultural ecology; historical geography; and landscape, society, and meaning. 

In 2005 he received an Outstanding Graduate Teaching Award. He has had 29 Ph.D.’s (8 of them women) and 16 M.A.’s (7 women), at Wisconsin, Chicago and Texas. Currently, he supervises three Ph.D. students.  

Four of his Ph.D.'s received Outstanding Dissertation Awards of the University of Texas: Robert Ricklis (1990) on indigenous response to sea level change and political confrontation on the Texas gulf coast; Charles Frederick (1995) on climate, land use and environmental history in Mexico; Christine Drennon (1998) on ethnic conflict and the fragmentation of space in Macedonia; and Catherine Castañeda (2003) on women, ethnicity and access to resources in costal Hondouras.
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Major Areas of Fieldwork

Shores of Lake Turkana, 1968

1. Egypt, Nubia and Jordan, including dissertation fieldwork (1956); archaeological survey for the German Archaeological Institute (1958); Quaternary studies and geoarchaeology for Yale University (1962-63); and geoarchaeology of the ‘Lost City of the Pyramids’ at Giza (Ancient Egypt Research Associates) (2001-02).

2. East Africa, with the University of Chicago Omo Expedition in SW Ethiopia (1967-69); and independently at Axum, Ethiopia (1971, 1973).

3. South Africa and Namibia, including nine field seasons between 1969 and 1983, focused on Quaternary studies and the geoarchaeology of some thirty sites, including Taung and Swartkrans.

4. Spain, including independent research in Mallorca and Catalunya (1959-72); the University of Chicago Excavations at Torralba-Ambrona (1961-63, 1967, 1980-81); and with Elisabeth Butzer, directing the Sierra de Espadán Project in historical archaeology, anthropology, and environmental history (1980-87). In 2001, Karl and Elisabeth, with Professor Juan Mateu, organized and led a series of field trips in eastern Spain for the Conference of Latin American Geographers.

5. Mexico, Butzer carried out departmental field trips 1985-91, devoted to the Spanish Colonial imprint, and he directed the Laguna Project 1995-2000, addressing the environmental history of northern Mexico. Karl and Elisabeth Butzer also organized and led urban and rural field trips in Central Mexico (1989) and Northern Mexico (2000) for the Conference of Latin Americanist Geographers.

6. Australia, fieldwork in collaboration with Professor David Helgren, evaluating the impact of livestock introduction to New South Wales (1999, 2003).

7. Cyprus, studying environmental history and geoarchaeology (2004), with  doctoral  student Sarah Harris.

(Front, left to right)

Elisabeth Butzer, Karl Butzer, F. Clark Howell, Raymond Dart, and Louis Leakey


At the Melka-Kontoure Site, Ethiopia, 1971

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Summary of Publications


Author or editor of 14 books and monographs.

Karl Butzer’s dissertation Quaternary Stratigraphy and Climate in the Near East was published in 1958 and reprinted by Johnson Reprint Corp., New York, in 1969. 

Environment and Archeology: An Introduction to Pleistocene Geography was first published in 1964. It was the subject of a ‘book of the month’ style commentary by multiple authors in Current Anthropology 7 (1966) 501-26. A new and expanded edition, with the subtitle An Ecological Approach to Prehistory appeared in 1971. This study, originally based on coursework developed at the University of Wisconsin since 1960, served to shift ‘environmental archaeology’ from a technical ‘cookbook’ to a synthetic and  interpretative  overview of world prehistory. Several chapters have been republished in anthologies. 

Butzer’s early research in Egypt and Nubia was brought together in Desert and River in Nubia (with Carl Hansen, 1968) and especially Early Hydraulic Civilization in Egypt (1976). The latter is one of the most widely cited works in archaeology.  

Recent History of an Ethiopian Delta (1971) recorded part of Butzer’s work with the University of Chicago Omo Expedition to document modern depositional environments for interpretation of Plio-Pleistocene and younger fossil finds. Applications to the paleoecology and geochronology of early hominids were published in a series of papers, including Nature (Nature 22 [1969] 1133-1135, 1139-1143 and Nature 226 [1970] 425-430), Quaternaria (11 [1970] 15-30), Naturwissenschaften (58 [1971] 7-16), Science (175 [1972] 1069-1076), Earliest Man and Environments in the Lake Rudolf Basin (1976, 12-23), and Physical Geography (1 [1980] 44-58). Butzer’s surprising case, that both archaic and modern Homo sapiens were contemporary with each other in the Kibish Formation of southwestern Ethiopia during the Early Upper Pleistocene, has been vindicated by recent research (McDougall et al. in Nature 433 [2005] 733-736). On his stratigraphic dating of anatomically-modern fossils at Border Cave and Klasies River Mouth in South Africa into the same time frame, see Journal of Archaeological Science (5 [1978] 317-41) and South African Archaeological Bulletin (33 [1978] 141-51).  

After the Australopithecines: Stratigraphy, Ecology and Culture Change in the Middle Pleistocene (1975) brings together the contributions to an International Wenner-Gren Symposium, Austria, organized by Butzer and Glynn Isaac in 1973. Related papers on the ecology of East and South African hominids appeared in Quaternary Research (4 [1974] 136-148); Current Anthropology (15 [1975] 367-382, 420-426); American Scientist (65 [1977] 572-584); and African Hominidae of the Plio-Pleistocene (ed. Cliff Jolly 1978, 191-217). 

An advanced textbook, Geomorphology from the Earth (1976), has also appeared in Hungarian translation in 1986. Old copies are still used at several African universities, based on the treatment of tropical geomorphology. 

An edited volume on Dimensions of Human Geography (1978) was analyzed by J.L. Allen for Reviews in Anthropology (6 [1979] 257-67).  

Archaeology as Human Ecology (1982) represents a fresh integration of theoretical and empirical notions, including urban archaeology and issues of site formation, integrity and destruction; but it also incorporates humanistic dimensions. Cambridge has put out an on-line edition (2006) and the Spanish translation (1989) has been reprinted (2006). 

Medieval Muslim Communities of the Sierra de Espadán, Valencia (with Elisabeth Butzer and Juan Mateu) is a monographic publication on the Espadán Project  (Viator 17 [1986] 339-413). It has been followed by contributions on Roman versus Arab irrigation networks and practices in the Annals, Association of American Geographers (75 [1985] 495-522) (translated into Catalan, 1989); in Los Paisajes del Agua (1989); and elsewhere. On Early Modern subsistence and ecology, see: The Earth as transformed by Human Action (ed. B.L. Turner and others 1990, 685-701). On the inability of 'medium-range theory' to predict processes elucidated by archical data see: The Ecosystems Approach in Anthropology (ed. E.F. Moran, 1990, 91-130)

Karl Butzer edited The Americas before and after 1492 (1992), including his contributions to indigenous mapping and Spanish urban planning in the New World. These themes are developed further in Karl and Elisabeth Butzer’s “Domestic architecture in early colonial Mexico: Material culture as (sub)text” in Cultural Encounters with the Environment (eds. A.B. Murphy, D.L. Johnson 2000, 17-37).  

Professional Papers

In addition to some 120 book reviews, Karl Butzer is author or first co-author of over 250 scientific papers and book-chapters, including journals or series such as Science, Nature, American Scientist, Cambridge Ancient History, Cambridge History of Africa, Die Naturwissenschaften, Journal of Geology, Soil Science, Quaternary Research, South African Journal of Science, Current Anthropology, Ecumeme, American Antiquity, Geoscience and Man, Advances in World Archaeology, Quaternary Science Reviews, Journal of Archaeological Science, Journal of Field Archaeology, and Geoarchaeology. Ten articles have been translated into Spanish, Catalan, French, Russian, or Chinese. Several major themes are identified below.

 Geoarchaeology. A geoarchaeological survey was presented in “Archeology and geology in ancient Egypt” (Science 132 [1960] 1617-24) and  republished in New Roads to Yesterday (1966). Early site microstudies include “Acheulian occupation sites at Torralba and Ambrona, Spain: Their geology” (Science 150 [1965] 1718-1722); “Geology of Nelson Bay Cave, Robberg, South Africa” (South African Archaeological Bulletin 28 [1973] 97-110. The designation “geoarchaeology” was apparently first used in his “Spring sediments from the Acheulian site of Amanzi (Uitenhage District, South Africa)” (Quaternaria 17 [1973] 299-319), and has since become a vibrant and expanding international and interdisciplinary enterprise. Contextual dating and environmental content of rock art are found in Science (203 [1979] 1201-14, with co-authors). Other geological studies are encapsulated in Southern African Prehistory and Paleo-Environments (ed. Richard Klein 1984, 1-64) and Late Quaternary Environments in South Africa (ed. John Vogel 1984, 235-264). For North Spanish sites and spatial interaction, “Paleolithic settlement and adaptation in Cantabrian Spain” (Advances in World Archaeology 5 [1986] 201-252). For urban sedimentation and flood damage in eastern Spain, Journal of Archaeological Science (10 [1983] 333-49, with coauthors), republished in Spanish. The relevance of Old World spatial and site-specific archaeology for earliest settlement in the Americas is argued in The First Americans ( T. Dillehay, D. Meltzer 1991, 137-56). 
Human Impacts on the Environment. Karl Butzer has studied environmental impacts from several perspectives in different regions. (a) The ecology of Mediterranean  agropastoralism and the Spanish Mesta is studied in Annals, Association of American Geographers (78 [1988] 29-56), while prehistoric agropastoral strategies are treated in Journal of Field Archaeology (23 [1996] 141-50);  for the crosscultural commonalities of Islamic agroecology see Ecumene (1 [1994] 7-50).

(b) A series of papers with Elisabeth Butzer, based heavily on archival sources, addresses the equivocal impact of Spanish livestock on the environment of Colonial Mexico, for example, in Global Land Use Change (ed. B.L. Turner and A. Gómez Sal 1995, 151-93); Culture Form and Place (ed. Kent Mathewson 1993, 89-124); and Quaternary International (43/4 [1997] 161-172).

(c) Parallel but 19th century questions about supposed degradation by sheep in southeastern Australia are examined from several disciplinary perspectives in Annals, Association of American Geographers (95 [2005] 80-111, with David Helgren).

(d) Based on a career of study in the Mediterranean Basin, the difficulties of establishing cause-and-effect relationships with respect to land use stress, climatic anomalies, and environmental degradation are brought together from scientific, crosscultural, and humanistic perspectives in Journal of Archaeological Science (23 [2005] 1773-1800).

(e) Earlier papers on the value of mid-Holocene paleoclimatic shifts to anticipate the impacts of global warming (Professional Geographer 32 [1980] 269-78; Quaternary Research 19 [1983] 279-92) have been reinforced by contemporary atmospheric modeling of expected water-budget changes. 

Population Cycles and “Civilizational Collapse.” Institutional structures, demography and climatic forcing are examined in American Scientist (68 [1980] 44-58), reprinted in several anthologies;  the complex interplay of land use pressures and climatic anomalies in the decline of Axumite civilization in Ethiopia are presented in American Antiquity (46 [1981] 471-95) and Archaeology (35 [1982] 30-37);  settlement discontinuities and demographic cycles are emphasized in The Ecosystem Approach in Anthropology (ed. Emilio Moran 1990, 91-130) and Re-Reading Cultural Geography (Ken Foote 1994, 403-28); evidence from Egypt and Palestine against climatic forcing is documented in Third Millennium BC Abrupt Climatic Change and Old World Social Collapse (eds. N. Dalfes et al., 1997, 245-95). 

Coastal Geomorphology and Sea Level Change. “On the Pleistocene shorelines of Arabs’ Gulf, Egypt” (Journal of Geology 68 [1960] 622-637) continues to be cited. A series of papers on interstratified eolian beds, soils and fossil beaches include “Coastal stratigraphy of southern Mallorca” (with Juan Cuerda, Journal of Geology 70 [1962] 398-416); “Late Cenozoic evolution of the Cape Coast between Knysna and Cape St. Francis, South Africa” (with David Helgren, Quaternary Research 2 [1972] 143-169); and “Coastal sands, paleosols, and Pleistocene geoarchaeology of the Southwestern Cape, South Africa” (Journal of Archaeological Science 31 [2004] 1743-81). On evolution of the Nile Delta and human settlement, in Egypt and the Levant (eds. E.C.M. Van den Brink, Tom Levy 2002, 83-97). For French coastal wetland reclamation in Atlantic Canada, Annals, Association American Geographers (92 {2002] 451-70). 

Ancient Tufa Waterfalls, Playa Lakes, and Periglacial Phenomena. A variety of geomorphologic subjects with environmental implications include (a) Tufa deposits in Egypt and South Africa, in Canadian Geographer (8 [1964] 125-141) and Quaternary Research (10 [1978] 310-339, with co-authors); (b) Pleistocene playas with Paleolithic occupations, Journal of Archaeological Science (1 [1974] 1-25); and (c)  Difficulties of interpreting montane cold-climatic phenomena in the Mediterranean region and South Africa, in Zeitschrift für Geomorphologie (8 [1964] 7-31), Boreas (2 [1973] 1-12), and Catena (6 [1979] 157-66).

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See Geographical Voices  (eds.. Peter Gould, Forrest Pitts 2002, 52-80), also published in France (Mémoires de Géographes, eds. Peter Gould, A. Bailly 2000, 43-78).   On how the experience of emigration and ethnic prejudice can inform the educational mission, see childhood experiences in Light from the Ashes (ed. Peter Suedfeld 2001, 361-98); it cautions against ethnic scapegoating in discussing current issues (Queen’s Quarterly 99 [1992] 581-600).  On  academic freedom in the authoritarian state, Die Erde (135 [2004] 223-31). 

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Graduate Course Outlines






GRG 382K (Same as ANT 382N)


Are we having an unusual winter? Why are we having an unusual winter? Why is the explanation so complicated? After all that, why aren't we "sure"? Does that mean we don't know? Of course not, it simply means that complex issues have complex answers. As scientific understanding increases, we inevitably learn that there are more, relevant variables than originally anticipated, and their ranking in terms of importance has to be adjusted. We also begin to appreciate that clusters of potential variables can come together to either accelerate an anomalous shift or dampen it, and such feedbacks may override the generally dominant variables.

This is how research in the observational realm works. It is cumulative and incorporates increasing complexity, benefits from fresh models, such as systems, introduces new processual relationships, such as El Niño, and becomes cognizant that both time and space, and at multiple scales, will modify the answers to a battery of differently focused questions. In the 160 years since European settlers arrived in Matagorda Bay, understanding of Texas winter weather has incrementally improved, stimulated by repeated innovations of observational methodology (e.g. weather recording and its telegraphic transmission; airplane observations; satellite photography) and analytical frames (barometric gradients, frontal theory, jet stream dynamics, global teleconnections of systemic behavior). Through all this, the epistemelogical criteria for "knowing" and "evaluating" continue to evolve and change.

In this sense, evolution is not a "theory" but a method, that represents cumulative understanding. An equally fundamental focus of interest --since ancient Greek times-- has been the interrelationships between people and societies with their environment. People live on this planet as a part of its biological and physical evolution; they occupy environments and use selected resources; they impact both, but they are also "constrained" by them, so that people/societies CO-EVOLVE with their environments. Each adjusts or "adapts" to the other, in continually changing ways in which the key variables shift, and feedbacks at unpredictable times speed up or brake ongoing changes. Although people are part of, and one with "nature," the "creative tension" between people and the environment poses one of the oldest intellectual challenges, and one that carries into the future in the guise of "sustainability."

Sustainability is primarily a temporal concept or concern, that attempts to project past human behavior and environmental/resource use/exploitation into a current or synchronic overview, for further analytical evaluation, with a view to proposing alternative future scenarios. But we still imperfectly grasp "sustainability," much like Texas weather only began to be understood after the World War II revolution of meteorology and climatology. There still is a way to go.

A critical part of this imperfection is the superficial way in which we try to characterize human/environmental relationships in a temporal or diachronic perspective--whether it be a century, a millennium, or ten millennia. There is a superabundance of uninformed but "authoritative" talk, either rooted in obsolete "paradigms" or simply opportunistic. As a result, the picture is as muddied as that of greenhouse gases and current, global climatic change. The problems are very real and critical, but the noise level of "opinion" is unproductive.

This interdisciplinary course addresses the principles and applications of Environmental History, directly linking contemporary issues of land degradation and ecological change to archaeological themes such as settlement and land-use histories. Geoarchaeology and related biological investigations allow empirical testing of popular hypotheses about the environmental impact of pastoralism and different agricultural systems, based on the principle that "historical monitoring" is essential to understanding processes and their consequences. Regional examples with different time-frames are critically examined from the Mediterranean Basin, the Near East, Mesoamerica, and Australia. These illustrate the potential of both archaeology and environmental history to re-evaluate neo-ecological assumptions about ecological transformation, degradation and sustainability.


1) Methods of earth science, biological, archaeological and archival investigation to monitor and interpret environmental change over time;

2) Transformation, equilibrium, degradation and sustainability during ten millennia of agro-pastoral settlement in the Mediterranean world;

3) The ecological grounding of civilizations in the Near East and questions about environmental claims for civilizational change or collapse;

4) After 1788 - the myth of landscape destruction in Australia;

5) After 1492 - the impact of European land-use practices in the New World, versus indigenous use of the land.

6) Applications to recent global climatic change.


"As the Holocene progressed, environmental change increasingly occurred on a regional basis. This complexity in Holocene climate makes distinguishing natural from anthropogenically altered climate a formidable task." (Science 270 [1995] 1963)

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GRG 388C (Same as LAS 388.2)


This interdisciplinary seminar-course will focus on the more tangible processes of transculturation in Colonial Mexico. It includes perceptions of the "other", both Europeans and the indigenous people; the difficulties of dialogue and different world views; the problematics of conversion and "assimilation"; resistance and identity. Art and architecture, religion, indigenous and European cartography, agro-ecological interchange, as well as scientific writings will be emphasized as media to examine and illustrate the problems of exchange, dialogue, transformation, cultural interdigitation, and synthesis, through their distinctive modes of esthetic, spiritual, ecological, and spatial articulation. Case studies from Central Mexico and el Norte serve to elucidate socio-cultural and ecological change.

1. The Mediterranean and Mesoamerican worlds before 1492 as distinct historical contexts

2. Spanish Colonial policy: Antecedents, evolution, and the Law of the Indies

3. Contrasting world views and the ambiguities of conversion

4. Colonial towns and urban planning: Context, institutions, function, society

5. Co-opting indigenous administrative structures and lands

6. Demographic collapse and biological change

7. Indigenous and Spanish cartographies

8. Indigenous medicinal skills

9. Agrobiological exchange: Towards a new ecology

10. The mining centers and the world economy

11. Spaniards and Tlaxcalans settle and compete in the north

12. The Indian Baroque

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Informal subhead: The role of ethnicity in landscapes of culture

GRG 390C


The 20th century reads like a catalog of conflict, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. It also presents a mosaic of landscapes in which dominant and subordinate groups coexist and interact, in Latin America, the U.S.A., Canada and Europe, as a result of conquest or migration. Large and expanding minority groups in North America and Western Europe defy prognoses, and today confrontation is growing between the West and the Islamic World, against a backdrop of increasing numbers of failed states. This makes the conventional presentation of World Regional Geography appear to be static and increasingly obsolete. The ideology of ethnicity has been a key variable in this process, which offers another, if complementary perspective to the Global North/South dichotomy by emphasizing a different moment of dissonance.

This course first examines the details of rootedness in place, the rituals of community cohesion, and the accommodation of internal tensions. It then turns to broader questions of institutions, values, religion as culture, the roles of language, and ethnic identity as an ideology of social reproduction. These societal processes serve to imprint landscape with symbolic markers that identify and project historical myths as well as values and ideology, both to bind and educate. However these processes are complicated by conquest or migration, leading to the formation of ethnic mosaics or to transculturation and even ethnic reidentification. Landscapes of culture consequently may overlap, with interdigitation or hierarchical organization, e.g., mosques in France, or popular shrines versus formal churches in Latin America.

When dominant societies attempt to eliminate cultural, linguistic or ideological difference by appropriation, identity is mobilized and may lead to escalating tensions, terrorism or conflict, rather than long-term accommodation. When such conflict expands to a regional scale, as it has in the Balkans, the result may be ethnic cleansing, when dominant groups fear a loss of power and refuse to share their social and territorial space. The underlying current of increasingly violent conflict has in part been driven by the replacement of traditional, multicultural political structures (such as the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires) by centralized, unitary states. It has also been driven by colonial forces unleashed during the 19th century or earlier that continue to reverberate outside of Europe.

In the meanwhile the industrialized nations appear to be unable to find equitable solutions to accommodate resilient and rapidly growing minority populations. They also appear to be unwilling to accept difference on a global scale, still seeking to impose alien structures and policies in the old Colonial tradition.


Week 1. Ethnicity and how it works

2. The creation and maintenance of ethnicity in the Alps

3. The birth of Mexico 1: Indigenous maps (1500s-1700s)

4. The birth of Mexico 2: Indigenous imprint on church architecture

5. The birth of Medieval Europe: Christian iconography in the landscape

6. Multiculturalism in the Balkans: a Christian-Islamic landscape

7. A Christian landscape in Ethiopia: the rock-cut churches

8. Modernism, the nation state, and nationalism

9. Secular 'heritage' landscapes in North America

10. Totalitarianism and the impress of power

11. Ethnic cleansing: reconfiguring the cultural landscape

12. Minority landscapes in the USA

13. Indigenous peoples and land in Latin America

14. Cultural contestation, neocolonialism, and Islam

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1. Places, Peoples, Events. The Greek and Roman 'ethnogeographies' (c.450 BC-100 AD) were part of an ancient and continuing search to observe and integrate different categories of information. First understandings of agro-ecology. Itineraries. Coordinates and the 'world' map of Ptolemy (c. 160 AD). Medieval Christian authors substituted symbolic space for the grid map, and re-interpreted the world in terms of salvation history (c. 500-1400 AD). Islamic authors presented their own 'ethnogeographies', and re-work the subfield of agro-ecology (c. 800-1200 AD); early Islamic symbolic maps.

2. From Observation to Concept and Age Representation. Late Medieval navigation maps (13th-15th c.). The map-makers' celebration of the exotic. Antiquarian remakes of Ptolemy (after 1470). Politicized or ethnocentric world maps of the (Re)Discovery. Non-Western maps: Islamic world maps, based on Ptolemy (14th-16th c.); the Turkish map of the 'New' World, based on Western sources. Spanish and indigenous mapping in the 'New' World. New projections and the first atlas (late 1500s).

3. From Medieval Itineraries to Early Regional Geographies. The role of pilgrimages. Marco Polo's travels. Reports, sketches and maps of unfamiliar places. 19th c. regional geographies as gazetteers of primarily economic data. Carl Ritter. Continuity with the Classical tradition, in the absence of academic field methodologies.

4. The Exhilaration of Re-Discovery. The alternative strands - spontaneous field observation, outside of academia. After 1492: The publicizing of Columbus; Oviedo's natural history; Cieza's vibrant regional observations; Sahagun's cultural record; and López de Velasco's urban planning. The French Expedition in Egypt (1799-1800), spearheaded by an art historian. Humboldt's vertical zonation model. African 'exploration' as the catalyst of geography at universities.

5. From Military Maps to a Science of the Physical Environment. Flemish topographical mapping and the war between Spain and the Netherlands (after 1560). Hachure maps for battlefield logistics (late 1700s). Napoleon's topographic mapping project and its impact. Worldwide mapping of climatic variables, plant associations, faunal distributions, geology, and soil categories (late 1800s). Richthofen's geomorphology text illustrates how the search for physical representation had moved to 'understanding' and initial synthesis.

6. Competing Presentations of Deductive Geomorphology. Tectonic geomorphology. Davis' cycle of erosion. Quaternary geomorphology and the concept of time. 'Climatic geomorphology', emphasizing the role of climate, vegetation and soil formation in sculpturing distinctive landforms in different environments. Generational change vs. national schools (1880s to present).

7. Inductive Geomorphology and Fresh Synthetic Efforts. Landscape geometry, process studies, systems theory, environmental reconstruction, applications to the study of human impacts, e.g. soil erosion. An increasing divergence between textbooks and ongoing research (1930s to present).

8. Trying to Build Cultural and Human Subdisciplines. Rural settlement geography as an analog to geomorphic mapping. Ratzel's treatise on anthropogeography (vol.2, 1891) attempts to explain world cultural divergence by migration and environmental adaptation. Semple's misinterpretation of Ratzel leads to the red herring of environmental determinism (Huntington). Sauer discovers Kroeber, then Marsh. The Berkeley School goes beyond ethnocentrism. Hartshorne, the CIA, and American 'political geography'. Midwestern regional description, and Hartshorne's reinterpretation of Hettner. Influence of the 'urban ecology' school. A quantitative 'revolution' or joyride?

9. Pulling Back from Oversimplification and Positivism. The 'humanistic' and Marxist protests to logical positivism. Duncan's superorganic critique: Berkeley under fire. A new appreciation of cultural behavior. Cultural ecology as process, rather than reified patterns. 'Power' and political ecology. Sauerian re-mobilization and the 'dynastic' approach. The 'new' cultural geography.

10. Pathways of Postmodernism and an Emerging Environmental History. The role of attachment, 'place', and symbol in a cultural landscape that consists of more than material attributes. Deconstructing ethnocentrism and other 'isms'. Political correctness and (re)creating history. The many variants of environmentalism. Toward a pragmatic environmental history as a prerequisite to effective mitigation of problems. For geography as a whole, there has been a phenomenal diversification and reaching out to our sister disciplines.

11. Are the Threads (Re)Connecting? Does it really matter that they do? It is standard to have competing perspectives and methodologies in the observational and social sciences. Even as paradigms shift, new dialectical tensions arise, provoking fresh challenges and debates. In fact, diversity and debate, if they do not get out of hand, are integral to healthy intellectual communities.



This course will attempt to examine a selection of still-current themes from this sprawling heterotopia of distinct but shifting approaches, bound together by a partly intuitive search to understand the "whole earth". Like other scholarly traditions, Geography has had its trajectory of repeated thesis and antithesis, but its persistent efforts to integrate unlike categories is unique in the liberal arts.

Specifically, "nature" and "people/culture" come with different epistemologies, and there has always been ambiguity as to whether and how to integrate them into a unified paradigm, either for research or for teaching. The task is compounded by the essential dimensions of space and time. The map, personal exploration, location, and spatial ordering define the logical engagement for geographical "practice". At the same time, the comparative ways that people engage with resources and the environment, today and in times past, means that interpretation requires both synchronic and diachronic components. Place and space provide a "stage" that is dynamic, rather than static.

One of the important legacies of Geography's 19th c. re-emergence is the central role of fieldwork, and particularly, field research abroad. Although "exploration" during the late 1800s was tainted by some degree or other of Colonial behavior, and some research abroad during the 1940s and 50s was paid for or done in collusion with the CIA, the Berkeley tradition focused sympathetically on indigenous cultures, and subsequent developments in political ecology emphasized the virtues of traditional land use and took critical anti-hegemonic positions. Thus Geography has long played a somewhat unique role within the social sciences, in emphasizing international research and dealing with non-Western cultures in a positive manner.

Geography has resisted becoming a dry and impersonal academic medium, always stepping back from the brink of ivory tower abstraction. A part of this had been a response to the interests of the potential audience. The ancient Greek travelers who created the durable genre of "places, people, and events" understood the healthy human curiosity about "how the world looks", about "what other peoples do and how they behave", and about "where things happen". Another part of the explanation is that geographical "practice" across two millennia has been primarily driven by the information and conceptualization of observant people from all walks of life - seafarers, pilgrims, soldiers, merchants, agents of government, retired farmers, medical doctors, writers, and geometers. It has never been the unchallenged preserve of academic scholars and philosophers, especially so because Geography only became part of the university curriculum quite late. Even now, professional journals by Geographers in every country are challenged by successful, popular magazines about geographical subject matter. In short, Geography is both an academic discipline and a "popular" field. As a result, communication--whether by ancient story telling, modern media, or in the lecture hall--has always been a legitimate part of the enterprise. The curiosity of the educated public about the "world" demands that "teaching" and research go together.

That is why the history of Geography is so fascinating. It is about the cumulative wisdom of countless thinking and thoughtful individuals. It reflects the lifelong search of Everyman and--woman, to make sense of and to order the world around them. That makes it a diffuse and difficult history to "read". And, as a search for understanding the world and its interrelationships, Geography becomes as much a philosophy as it is a discipline.

In order to celebrate the intellectual history of what we, as a diverse group, enjoy doing in many different ways, the course is devoted to discursive lectures and discussion about traditional and current issues and dialectics.

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