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Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Environmental Histories, Concepts, and Current Confrontations

Thu, March 31, 1:00 to 2:30pm, Westin Seattle Hotel, Cascade 2

Session Submission Type: Roundtable


Because environmental historians have focused on nature-society-relations in the past, they often engaged with ‘Traditional Ecological Knowledge’ (also known as ‘Traditional Environmental Knowledge’, TEK) well before this concept gained broader currency. Yet so far as we know, little conversation has hitherto linked the (mainly) anthropologists, public historians, and community of environmental historians who explore such issues, although these groups could profit from each other.
Our round table brings together perspectives from environmental thought, the history of science, indigenous North American cultures past and present, and preindustrial Europe. Panelists will explore the conceptual construct of TEK, its epistemological and substantive content, its place in contemporary relations of ecological and environmental management with indigenous communities, and its potential as a tool to help tease out, reconstruct, and understand the productive practices of non- and semi-literate societies before the advent of cheap fossil energy and hegemonic science. The critical discussion of TEK in the past ten years has questioned if decontextualizing bits of transferable ‘knowledge’ from embedded world-views is possible without transforming this knowledge into something completely different. How might historians respond? Panelists and the audience may potentially address but are not limited to the following questions:
To what extent might the ecological sustainability and environmental crises of such communities then and now rest upon distinctive forms of thought and activities using things of nature?
How did/do cultures of memory and oral transmission learn, retain, and convey the understandings and practices, which shaped their long-term relations with their local soils, waters, and biota?
What conditions marked the long-term success and occasional failures of these systems of applied knowledge?
How do/did these knowledge systems interact with others in their own societies or those with which they came into contact?
How (with which methods) can the TEK of past societies now be recovered?

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