Rooting Civilization in the Soil

Winter Course

Imagine a highly developed, complex civilization disappearing virtually overnight, leaving only tantalizing evidence of its greatness to puzzle modern researchers. Ancient Mayan ruins in Mesoamerica, and those of the Anasazi in the Southwest, offer mute testimony of once thriving cultures that suddenly, mysteriously, collapsed. Why? Human life is rooted in the soil, both literally in our land-based agriculture over the last ten thousand years, and metaphorically in our more recent urban cultures. Soil and water management have been closely tied to the advances, declines, and regeneration of simple human societies and complex civilizations for millennia, especially in our quest to grow food in challenging environments with unstable climates and too little or too much water.

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Using the Maya and Anasazi as case studies, we’ll employ modern science and history to unravel the mysteries of ancient cultural change. The course requires no previous background: brief lectures and occasional films will introduce participants to the nature of these civilizations and the relevant science and history necessary to our task. The emphasis will be on extensive discussion. Our joint exploration will challenge us to examine our perceptions of what constitutes “modern,” “sustainable” human culture in light of disturbances of ecosystems and challenges to complex societies. Participants may expect approximately 50 pages of reading per week.

Bruce James received a B.A. in chemistry and environmental studies from Williams, followed by M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in soil science from UVM. During these studies, he developed a keen interest in interdisciplinary learning related to the course topic that he used in his teaching at the University of Maryland, College Park, for 29 years. Now retired, he continues to thrive on new learning and ideas related to sustainability, environmental science, soils, environmental history, and agriculture.

Mondays, January 14 - February 25 from 12:00 - 2:00 PM at the DOC House in Hanover, NH. Please call 603-646-0154 to register or click here. $80 course fee.

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