Spring 2021

CHECK THIS PAGE FREQUENTLY.  Some of this stuff is preliminary and I will likely update, add, drop things as we go along.

I will update reading assignments at least one week in advance of when we'll discuss them in class.  I'll also try to  remind you in class -- but it's also your job to check here.

General notes on approach:

READ ASSIGNED MATERIAL sufficiently IN ADVANCE that you can look up terms, frame questions
- DO NOT expect to be able to read them quickly once through and be ready for discussion.  Read intensively and re-read bits or wholes as needed
- TAKE NOTES ON YOUR READING: If you don't have notes on each reading when you come to class on the day they're to be discussed, it means you're not really doing your job (and I will notice!).  Use notes to remind you of whatever you think interesting or important, but IN PARTICULAR:
        - Note questions of fact: -- terminology, background, etc -- and look up what you can, bring rest to class.  I will ask, in each discussion, for questions of fact; if you don't have anything to ask, I assume you understood everything! 
        -  And, especially,
questions of substance -- arguments, implications, assumptions of the material.  Important to think about these. YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO summarize the basic arguments of whatever we read -- and I may ask you to do so!  If, after reading a paper, you find you can't do this, then prepare questions related to what you don't understand.  
        - And you should ALWAYS think abo
ut the 'what next' questions.  What would be the next question for research, analysis?  If you found the authors' arguments convincing, where do they lead?  If not, what evidence, information do you need to either reject or become more confident about them?

    Alfred Crosby. 1994. Introduction: Nerds Versus Twits, (from Germs, Seeds, and Animals: Studies in Ecological History ) [light reading]
    Garrett Hardin. 1968. The tragedy of the commons. Science 162:1243-1248 [heavy reading]


    Origins of Agriculture,: big picture.  How did environment interact with the phenomenon of ag origins?
    From Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: (prepare as much as you can by Monday; we'll continue with this material through the week)
        - Prologue and Part 1 (Chs. 1-3): Treat this as background; read it for general framing.  We won't spend lots of time in class dissecting it, but DO bring any questions or comments that arise as you read.
        - Part 2, Chs. 4-7: Read these chapters closely; consider the questions Diamond is asking, the arguments he's framing, how they're he supports them -- what kinds of evidence does he use? what kinds of assumptions does he make?  And so on.   We'll spend time with this material


    CONTINUE in Diamond: Chs. 7-11

READINGS FOR DISCUSSION 8-18 MAR (no class on Thurs 11th)

    Some readings that follow up on Diamond's global arguments and address some particular pieces of the story: Focal questions: What CONSTRAINS initial development of ag? What PROMOTES it?
    - for Monday 8th and into 15th:
        - prepare, Richerson et al. 2001. Was Agriculture Impossible during the Pleistocene but Mandatory during the Holocene? A Climate Change Hypothesis. American Antiquity  66:387-411  (NOTE that this is a longish paper and, in parts, rather dense/technical.  DON'T GET BOGGED DOWN in the technical/math stuff (unless you want to); DO FOCUS on the overarching arguments.  DO USE the graphs to help understand the argument. AND FRAME QUESTIONS to bring to class.

        - and  Wood, D., & Lenné, J. M. 2018. A natural adaptive syndrome as a model for the origins of cereal agriculture. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 285(1875).

  FOR THESE, in addition to the usual approach to readings, give particular thought to how these do or don't relate to Diamond's arguments.

(OPTIONAL: Totally up to you, but, if you're interested in socioeconomic side of this story, here's one of a number of papers proposing deep ties between adoption of agriculture and emergence of private property, capitalism, etc.. Bowles and Choi. 2013. Coevolution of farming and private property during the early Holocene. Proceedings of the national Academy of Sciences 110:8830-8835.)

    - For Mon. 15th and Thurs 18th:
- Ruddiman, W. 2005. How did humans first alter global climate? Scientific American 2005, March, pp46-53
    (and a more technical development of this argument: Scan this and read in detail as you wish for follow-up: Ruddiman, W. 2003. The anthropogenic greenhouse era began thousaqnds of years ago. Climatic Change 61: 261–293)  


Episode 1: Mesopotamians
        Wright, Karen. 1998. Empires in the dust. Discover Magazine, March issue 
        This is a popular summary of the work of HarveyWeiss and others: here are TWO more technical publications addressing the same historical episode.  Read ONE of them for the basic arguments and rationale, and be prepared to contrast with the Wright article in form and approach as well as substance.
        Weiss, Harvey, et al. 1993. The genesis and collapse of third millennium North Mesopotamian Civilization. Science 261: 994-1004  (This is an extremely influential paper that's still generating lively discussion.)
        Cullen, H.M. et al. 2000. Climate change and the collapse of the Akkadian empire: Evidence from the deep sea. Geology 28:379-382 (somewhat technical but very short;  at least scan it for suggestion of how people have proceeded to try to test id
Episode 2: Greece

        Runnels, C. N. 1995. Environmental Degradation in Ancient Greece. Scientific American.


Episode 3: Mayans
       Scott, Michon. 2004. Mayan Mysteries. Terrible title, but reports some real research by NASA (!) scientists
       Peterson, L. and G. Haug. 2005. Climate and the Collapse of Maya Civilization. American Scientist 93:
       Dunning, N.P. et al. 2012. Kax and kol: Collapse and resilience in lowland Maya civilization. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci 109:3652-3657. [This one is little 'denser' but more recent, and still readable; focus on the general approach and how data are interpreted.]

Episode 4: Anasazi
       (Focus, in these readings, on how people approach the question of what caused population movements and changes in complex societies that left no written records.  How can you assess the conclusions drawn?  Compare their models with others?)
        Diamond, Jared. 2002. Life with the Artificial Anasazi. Nature

        Benson, et al. 2006. Anasazi migrations during the middle-12th and late-13th centuries...  Climatic Change

FOR 8 APRIL (probably spilling into next week)

Episodes 5 and 6: Early predecessors of EuroAmerican agriculture
    Dupouey et al.. 2002. Irreversible impact of past land use on forest soils and biodiversity. Ecology 83:2978-2984. NOTE that there are some fancy statistics here; do not worry too much over them. DO make sure have general understanding of Fig. 2 andTable 1.  Researchers use something called 'factorial analysis' to analyze differences in plant communities; all you need to know is that this analysis produces 'scores' for study plots, and the more difference the score between plots, the less similar their vegetation.
    Dockrill and Bond 2009. Sustainability and Resilience in Prehistoric North Atlantic Britain: The Importance of a Mixed Paleoeconomic System. Journal of the NorthAtlantic. 2:33-50.  (Shorter than it looks; several full-page graphics, and several pages of appendix; focus on the Discussion section and the basic story-line and logic -- do not worry too much about the archeological details.  You can thank a class member for this one...)
    WHAT DO THESE TWO SYSTEMS HAVE IN COMMON?  Is it appropriate to look at the Shetland/Orkney situation as 'sustainable'?


Great Meadow, Chs 1-2
    Changes in the Land, Chs 1-2    


    Great Meadow Chs 3-4
    Changes in the Land Chs 3-4

FOR 26 APRIL (no AM classes 29 April)

Great Meadow Chs 7-8


  Raup, H. 1966 (reprinted 1997) The view from John Sanderson's farm. Forest History (now 'Forest History Today)
    Use the FIRST FIVE FIGURES at this web-site to support your reading (this is work from Harvard Forest, whichincludes what was Sanderson's Farm, and is a site of much land-use history research; you may wish to check out the Harvard Forest website...
    Another perspective and change of pace:  Two chapters from Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farmer Boy (1933)

    Flinn, K. and M. Vellend. 2005. Recovery of forest plant communities in post-agricultural landscapes. Frontiers in Ecology and Environment. 3:243-250  (Consider what the findings reported in this article say about the broader concept of 'sustainability' in agriculture...)


Present to Future:

Read this for general understanding; some parts are relatively technical.
Erb, K.-H., F. Krausmann, V. Gaube, S. Gingrich, A. Bondeau, M. Fischer-Kowalski, and H. Haberl. 2009. Analyzing the global human appropriation of net primary production — processes, trajectories, implications. An introduction. Ecological Economics 69:250–259. doi: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2009.07.001.

Tilman et al. 2002. Agricultural sustainability and intensive production practices. Nature 418:671-677

LOOK AT THESE if interested in further background info: 

    From NASA's 'SEDAC' Program (Give thought to implications OF THE THIRD MAP in particular)
    And a more general reference on this topic from The Encyclopedia of Earth -- should help with some terminology/concept 

AND, here's the article Erb et al. refer to a lot; refer to it as interest dictates:
Haberl, H., K. H. Erb, F. Krausmann, V. Gaube, A. Bondeau, C. Plutzar, S. Gingrich, W. Lucht, and M. Fischer-Kowalski. 2007. Quantifying and mapping the human appropriation of net primary production in earth’s terrestrial ecosystems. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104:12942.

FOR WEEK OF 17-20 MAY: Focus on METHODS (plant breeding, tillage...)

Some readings about potential futures for agricultural crops, plant breeding, GMO use, different farming methods, etc.

    Two reviews of a book, Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food, by Pamela Ronald and Raoul Adamchak (one a 'genetic engineer', one an organic farmer -- and they are a couple) from PLOS and from Science. They're short; read them both...

    And an article comparing yields and yield stability in 'organic' and 'conservation' agriculture (this one has technical bits; FOCUS on INTRO, FIGURES, and scan DISCUSSION. ALSO consider definitions of 'organic', 'conventional', and 'conservation' ag methods: Knapp and van der Heijden. 2018. A global meta-analysis of yield stability in organic and conservation agriculture. Nature Communications

    A TED talk by Steward Brand -- One of the founder's of Earth Day and editor of the first Whole-EarthCatalogue, who now argues that the organic farming movement should embrace genetic engineering as a tool...  Here's a NY Times column that talks about Brand's 2010 book, Whole-Earth Discipline.  And here's another from The Guardian: read/view at least one, but they're both short.

    Popkin, Gabriel, 2020. Can 'carbon smart' farming play a key role in the climate fight? YaleEnvironment360.  Good discussion of the complexities of carbon sequestration in agriculture; it's not a simple story...

National Academies of Science. The Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States. [READ this short synopsis of a book-length analysis; the whole thing is accessible for free on line.  There's also a more recent (2016) update freely downloadable here.] 

A couple of supplementary piece for follow-up if you're interested:

Conniff, Richard. 2012. In fast-track technology, hope for a second green revolution. YaleEnvironment360 (talks about new approaches to plant breeding that are different from GMO, but still allow more rapid development)

    Snow. A.A. et al. 2005. Genetically engineered organisms and the environment: current status and recommendations.  Ecological Applications 15:377-404 (This is an officially sanctioned 'white paper' produced by the EcologicalSociety of America:  longish, but not as long as it might seem at first -- lots of 'boxes' and so forth)

FOR WEEK OF 24-27 MAY: Focus on broader conservation implications

Reconciling growing more food with organic methods, biodiversity conservation, and taming greenhouse warming

Several short readings.

    Laurance, W. 2014. Will increased food production devour tropical forest lands? YaleEnvironment360

    Ramankutty, N., and J. Rhemtulla. 2012. Can intensive farming save nature? Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 10:455–455.

    Pearce, Fred. 2018. Sparing vs. Sharing: the great debate over how to protect nature. YaleEnvironment360

And one slightly longer one.

    Hunter et al. 2017. Agriculture in 2050: Recalibrating Targets for Sustainable Intensification. Bioscience.


    Check out the Project Drawdown website; look at a couple of their ideas for reducing greenhouse emissions in the agriculture, food, and land-use sector at:

KW, Jan 2021