RCN – SEES Global Long-term Human Ecodynamics Research Coordination Network:

Assessing Sustainability on the Millennial Scale

  Beginning in December 2011, the CUNY HERC  center will host a five year NSF Science Engineering and Education for Sustainability (SEES) Research Coordination Network grant for the Global Human Ecodynamics Alliance in collaboration with an international team of scholars and major institutions active in sustainability science and education. HERC will host an annual  SEES open workshop at the CUNY Graduate Center and will work to coordinate CUNY participation in this major international interdisciplinary project. Check the HERC website and the GHEA website (

 Participating Scholars

PI: Dr. Sophia Perdikaris (Director CUNY Global Human Ecodynamics Research Center) ; Co-PI’s  Dr. Margaret Nelson (President’s Professor, School of Human Evolution and Social Change; Vice Dean, Barrett Honors College, Arizona State University), Dr. Timothy Kohler (Regents Professor, Anthropology Dept. Washington State, Santa Fe Inst.), Dr. Ben Fitzhugh (U Washington, Dept. of Anthropology), Dr. Thomas McGovern (Assoc. Director CUNY Global Human Ecodynamics Research Center, Anthropology Program CUNY). Steering Committee: Dr. Julie Bond (Division of Archaeological, Geographical  and Environmental Sciences, School of Life Sciences, University of Bradford), Dr. Jago Cooper (School of Archaeology & Ancient History, U Leicester), Dr. Andrew Dugmore (U Edinburgh School of GeoSciences), Dr. Anna Evely (University of St. Andrews, School of Geography and Geosciences; University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen Centre for Environmental Sustainability), Dr. George Hambrecht (Deputy Director CUNY Global Human Ecodynamics Research Center), Dr. Michelle Hegmon (ASU School of Human Evolution and Social Change), Dr. Anne Jensen (UIC Science LLC/Barrow Arctic Science Consortium), Dr. Keith Kintigh (Associate Director, ASU School of Human Evolution and Social Change), Dr. Ingrid Mainland (Dept. of Archaeology, University of the Highlands and Islands/Orkney College),  Dr. Payson Sheets (U Colorado ), Dr. Peter Schweitzer (Anthropology Dept. UAF),  Dr Ian Simpson (Deputy Principal for Research and Knowledge Transfer & Dept of Environmental Sciences U Stirling).


  This RCN proposal will develop a collaborative research network in order to identify conditions that allow people to develop sustainable relationships with the environment over the millennial scale. This proposal draws upon widespread recognition that inter-generational sustainability education efforts and formulation of long-term environmental policy for adaptive management are ill served by short observational spans, restricted case pools, and disciplinary stove-piping. A transdisciplinary millennial scale perspective is key to a genuinely sustainable future (Redman & Kinzig 2007,  Redman 1999, Van der Leeuw & Redman 2002). This RCN will promote development of such an interdisciplinary long-term perspective on sustainability through three interlinked working foci; 1) building capacity in long-term sustainability investigations through systematic inter-regional comparison of cases representing long-term human ecodynamics “experiments” of coupled natural and human systems impacted by climate change, multi-generational human impact, and inter-regional connection; 2) building cyberinfrastructure support through common data management, digital dissemination and visualization tools that both aid sustainability researchers and connect with sustainability educators; 3) Enhancing local and national initiatives in sustainability education and community involvement in global change science by innovative application of digital technology and creating direct links with education professionals and involving active  local community participation in sustainability science & education.

Project Plan

Understanding and Communicating Millennial Scale Sustainability:  We propose to develop a collaborative research network in order to identify conditions that allow people to develop sustainable relationships with the environment. This theme allows us to engage multiple millennial-long cases and respond to calls for effective comparison across cases.  It allows for multiple theoretical perspectives and approaches to modeling, depending on the specific relationships to be understood.  It requires a strong education team to communicate about sustainable practices and important conditioners of sustainability to students and the public.  Thus, the network integrates diverse perspectives to advance science as well as the public understanding of outcomes of scientific inquiry. In order to address this grand theme we will develop three interlocking GHEA RCN working teams to address three inter-connected research foci:

Focus 1) Comparative Long-term Human Ecodynamics Coordination: Focus 1 Team Leaders are Margaret Nelson, Tim Kohler, Ben Fitzhugh, Tom McGovern, Andy Dugmore, Jago Cooper, Michelle Hegmon, and Payson Sheets. This team will integrate long-term case studies and build comparative strategies that examine a variety of aspects of ecodynamics including adaptation, resilience, robustness, intensification, path dependence, social rigidity, periodicity in climate change, cross-scale conjunctures, isolation and connection, demographic change, threshold crossings.  They anticipate grappling with new analytic approaches to characterizing variables and comparing cases along these dimensions and better integration of empirical analysis and modeling.  One model for this approach is demonstrated by Hegmon et al. (2008), in which an interdisciplinary Long Term Vulnerability and Transformation Project team synthesized massive amounts of detailed archaeological data from three regions in the US Southwest to systematically assess and compare dimensions of  the severity of the transformations in relation to social rigidity. Results indicated that rigidity (assessed in terms of integration, social power, and conformity) contributed to the severity of transformations in the face of  well-documented climatic variability. The publication, which demonstrates how relevant dimensions can be assessed and compared across multiple cases, has swiftly become required reading in college human ecodynamics and ESD courses internationally, and formed the springboard for current efforts to create inter-regional comparisons with the NABO North Atlantic regional cases in the Faroes, Iceland, and Greenland. This comparative effort has created intense productive debate within the NABO teams on factor weighting & definition, encouraged new integrative visualizations, stimulated re-analysis of old and new data sets, and helped identify a critical  climate/economy conjuncture Greenland case. This is the hard but stimulating work that we hope to spread by additional cross-case comparisons in diverse environments. Our intent is to stimulate better human ecodynamics science by encouraging regional teams with high quality long-term data sets to engage in comparable intense interactions. Thus the RCN focus 1 team will be charged with seeking out and engaging with other research groups, collaborating with focus 2 data managers and modelers, and planning and carrying out productive synthesizing meetings and focused workshops that can carry fresh team perspectives and new insights directly to the focus 3 team and the wider public without the limitations inherent in a single popularizer inevitably working outside their expertise and drawing on outdated material.

Focus 2) Building Cyberinfrastructure: Data Management, Modeling, Integration, Dissemination & Engagement. Focus 2 Team leaders are Tim Kohler, Anna Evely, Anthony Newton, Keith Kintigh, Ian Simpson. This team focus will enable and expand the sustainability science mission of focus 1 while also engaging and expanding the Focus 3) effort aimed at ESD and community involvement in sustainability science. This team 2 effort thus combines three interconnected objectives: a) improving data management and access for collaborating inter-regional case study comparison; b) connecting models and visualizations that can stimulate cross-disciplinary, cross-regional integration; and c) creating digital resources aimed at facilitating RCN communication within and between the three foci while providing useful products for ESD and community involvement in sustainability science.

a) tDAR (the Digital Archaeological Record).  As described in more detail in the data management plan, tDAR (  is a sustainable, international repository of the digital records of archaeological investigations that provides discovery and access as well as secure, long-term the preservation of its digital content. tDAR’s Web interface offers basic and advanced search and the ability to freely download digital objects of interest, thereby enhancing researchers’ and educators’ abilities to expand knowledge of the long-term human past and providing unprecedented scholarly and public access to research results (McManamon and Kintigh 2010). tDAR’s digital objects are also uploaded and documented—by the data contributors—though a Web-based interface. Metadata solicited include technical metadata for preservation, descriptive metadata for effective resource discovery, and detailed semantic metadata (Kintigh 2010) needed to enable sensible scientific reuse of the data into the future. Using this detailed metadata, tDAR offers state-of-the-art data integration tools that enormously facilitate the synthetic and comparative work of the sort envisioned by this project. Using community-developed standards encoded in hierarchical ontologies, tDAR makes it possible to integrate databases collected by different investigators using different recording schemes (Spielmann and Kintigh 2011; Kintigh 2006). The project will take advantage of recently revised Guides to Good Practice for managing a great variety of digital data types ( These guides were developed jointly by the UK’s Archaeology Data Service and Digital Antiquity (the organization that operates tDAR).

The NABO website ( allows registered users to upload information and project data to the NABO Project Management System (NABO PMS  The NABO PMS is the first step in our planned data management system and builds on the NABO tradition of cooperation across borders and disciplines.  It is adaptable, flexible and user driven, allowing both academic researchers and the wider community to quickly share and disseminate data, carry out spatial analyses and develop visualisation.  A mission of the focus 2 team will be to work to better integrate the NABO PMS and other regional data management systems with the main tDAR repository.

b) Integrating Modelers and Researchers: An important element of this RCN is encourage more interaction between modelers and empirical researchers in SEES disciplines. We will endeavor to have at least one modeler present at each of our workshops, because models force a level of abstraction that allow the commonalities, and real differences, among the case studies to be more clearly specified. Although RCN funding is not sufficient to develop new models, we seek to foster new collaborations that will ultimately result in new long-term collaborations between modelers and empirical researchers, as implemented in the northern Southwest by the Village Ecodynamics Project (VEP) team (Kohler and Varien, eds., 2011). Agent-based models (ABMs) in particular have the added attraction of lending themselves to engaging visualizations, readily leading to spin-off products for formal and informal education. Three museums are currently considering adopting versions of the VEP ABM in their interpretive materials.

c) Social Media in Sustainability Research: Social media as defined by Bruns and Bahnisch (2009) are “websites which build on Web 2.0 technologies to provide space for in-depth social interaction, community formation, and the tackling of collaborative projects”  (such as blogs, twitter, facebook, wikis and other web 2.0. applications). The use of social media is generally under-utilized in academia yet their use is an incredibly powerful for ensuring the development of common standards, ease of collaboration both spatially and temporally between researchers of differing disciplines and most importantly increased knowledge exchange with potential end users of research (such as policy makers and practitioners).  To put this in context, as of January 2009 Facebook had more than 175 million users, equivalent to twice the population of Germany (Kaplen & Haenlein, 2009). In line with the NSF RCN solicitation emphasis on innovative methods of dissemination, increasing diversity, and “maintaining openness and encouraging the involvement of additional interested parties” we propose in this RCN to use expertise in mobilization of social media for sustainability science and education developed by Dr. Anna Evely of Aberdeen Centre for Environmental Sustainability and the University of St. Andrews. She will work directly with other project members, community activists, teachers and students to help establish YouTube, Twitter, SlideShare and Scribd accounts for the RCN participants and help manage blogs and other tools for engagement with a wider community.  Fuller description is in the required Data Management Plan supplementary documentation.  The proposed RCN focus team 2 will thus engage with both the comparative case study sustainability science teams of focus 1 and with the ESD professionals of focus 3.

Focus 3) Promoting Sustainability Education & Engaging with Local Communities Focus 3 team leaders: Sophia Perdikaris, Ingrid Mainland, Anne Jensen, Julie Bond, Tom McGovern, Anthony Newton, Ian Simpson. This focus team brings together three interconnected strands under a common long-term sustainability education framework: a) more effective integration of the long-term perspective into new and existing national and international ESD initiatives; b) enhancing hands- on sustainability science and outreach components of field schools aimed both at general undergraduate education and training future professionals; c) enhancing connections of local community-based ESD, place-based learning, and heritage preservation across regions.  The current global threats to future sustainability have developed over multiple human generations, and as the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2016) envisages, achieving a sustainable “soft landing” for our species and planet over the next century will require another sustained inter-generational effort. The proposed GHEA RCN participants are nearly all educators as well as researchers, and we recognize that a major contribution of this RCN will be in expanding the aptitudes, sophistication, and experience base of citizens and future policy makers who are now  students.

a) Integration with national and international ESD: Many nations in the developed and developing world have responded strongly to the 2005 UN ESD call, and ESD educational initiatives are apparent in most of our college and university campuses.  While providing clear support for the sustainability agenda within education, such initiatives have tended to emphasize environmental rhetoric and ‘the greening of the campus’ (Jones et al. 2010). There is now a recognized need for educators to engage more specifically with pedagogy and to focus on the teaching and learning implications of sustainability (Wals and Blewitt 2010). The multi-faceted nature of sustainability literacy and skills necessitates innovative pedagogic associations at an interdisciplinary level (Blake et al. 2009). The proposed GHEA RCN will seek to exploit the fertile ground for future development of ESD is in the intersection between Archaeology, Environmental Science, Geography, Anthropology and History; these provide past and present evidence for sustainability from economic, social and environmental perspectives and have great potential for sustainability studies (Brooks and Ryan 2008,  Downes et al.2008). This approach has clear relevance for ESD as it provides the potential for sustainability literate graduates with an awareness of social, economic and environmental issues and more crucially, a historic dimension to contextualise this understanding ( Dale and Newman 2005, Blake et al. 2009, 5-7). The focus 3 team will work to connect the best of these approaches internationally, working to bring in the long-term perspective, visualization and modeling tools, and placed based heritage approaches that are the strengths of the Focus 1 and 2 teams. Building on a special Scottish Funding Council Strategic Research Development Grant (Downes et al. 2008) Archaeology Dept. at Univ. Highlands & Islands has recently been awarded two UK HEA grants (Downes and Mainland 2010; Mainland et al. 2010), to explore how archaeology and the Humanities can contribute more to ESD, and has initiated a highly productive cooperation with U Stirling History and Environmental Sciences programs and NABO. This Scottish initiative is at the current cutting edge of ESD/Archaeology/History/ Environmental science integration, and we propose to work closely with UK RCN members to draw on their expertise and spread best practice to US and international ESD.

b) Field School Engagement: Many field sciences use formal field schools combining coursework with hands on field science as a key means of expanding the education of undergraduates and training future professionals at the graduate level. Field schools now commonly incorporate multiple disciplines and regularly serve to engage with local schools and the host community as well as providing in field education to college students.

The CUNY Barbuda Historical Ecology Project field school combines specialists in prehistoric and historic archaeology, archaeobotany, geoarchaeology, zooarchaeology, marine biology, vegetation mapping, ethnoarchaeology, heritage development, and multidisciplinary paleoecology with an active program of collaboration with Barbuda primary and high school teachers and students. CUNY inner city undergraduate students not only acquire a broad engagement with Caribbean ecology, history, and archaeology through peer mentoring by senior undergrads and graduate students but also work directly with museum and education professionals to develop public outreach as part of their basic science training.

The Bradford Univ./ Orkney College Orkney Gateway to the Atlantic Project on Rousay, Orkney builds upon 26 years of research involving two multi-period sites; Tofts Ness, Sanday, Orkney 1984-2007 (Dockrill et al. 2007) spanning the period 3300 BC to 400BC and Old Scatness, a village settlement spanning two and half millennia from 400BC until the early 20th century (Dockrill et al. 2010). The core aim of this new research initiative on Rousay is to investigate at an island level sustainability and past reliance strategies, investigating how people (and society) reacted and adapted to climatic and environmental change over time. As well as adaptation and sustainability, this long time frame provides the potential to study cultural changes as a result of contact and trade. A second aim of the project is to record and understand sites on the island that are threatened by devastating present day coastal erosion caused by sea level rise and increased storminess. This project involves the training of undergraduate and postgraduate students and has very successfully combined living history re-enactment with digital and hands on presentation is planned to expand to activities and involvement for local volunteers and schoolchildren. In collaboration with Orkney College and the RCN focus 2 group, this field school will work to develop audio-tours for specific landscapes and field projects as a remote teaching tools (as at Learning & Teaching Scotland


The Barrow Arctic Science Consortium (BASC) has worked together with Science LLC (UICS) to bring science and the community together since it was founded in 1996.  The current Nuvuk Archaeological Project (NAP), is excavating threatened cultural resources at Nuvuk, former site of the northernmost village in the United States, and saving the data they contain about the past 1,700 years of history.  The NAP has high school students, mostly from the North Slope of Alaska, as long-term crew members.  More high-school students participate through the Rural Alaskan Honors Institute (RAHI), which works with rural Alaskan students from across the state, and through the NSF-funded Alaska Mexican Exchange, of  rural high school students from Mexico and Barrow.  I aHI GradyGra Both graduate students, including one with family ties to the North Slope, and undergraduates also take part in the project.  All participants gain field experience, particularly with fieldwork in remote Arctic locations and in the techniques of excavating and documenting burials.   The more advanced gain experience in teaching field techniques to new excavators, and serve as mentors and role models for younger students.  Several of the high school students have already worked as archaeological technicians on CRM projects for UICS and other firms.  Many have given public presentations to the community, and two of them presented a paper at the 16th Arctic Conference.  A number of participants have expressed interest in continuing to pursue archaeology in college or after their military service, and at least one has selected anthropology as a major.  In several cases, students have decided to pursue a college career as a result of participating in this project.  Outreach and capacity-building activities associated with the NAP and other BASC/UICS initiatives, in addition to the student presentations listed above, include public presentations by PIs of the NAP and cooperating research projects, presentations and practical field exercises in heritage recording at North Slope Borough (NSB) Elders/Youth Conferences, talks and lab visits as part of new teacher training and classroom and lab visits during the school year for the North Slope Borough School District, training and advising NSB planning and permitting personnel on heritage issues and how they play into planning for the long-term, and presentations to entities such as the Alaska Climate Impact Assessment Commission (a committee of the 25th Alaska State Legislature) and Norwegian science policy experts.  The local tour companies stop at the excavations on commercial tours to Point Barrow.  The NAP has participated in PolarTREC and The Exploratorium’s NSF-funded Ice Stories.  Project participants have done interviews with US, German, Danish, Spanish and British media, as well as blogging from the field and lab, and maintain a Facebook group for participants, which is particularly popular with the high school students.

These different field schools thus provide opportunities for combining ESD at multiple levels, creating strong cadres of young professionals with a strong commitment to international interdisciplinary research, promoting interdisciplinary thinking and community involvement in sustainability science and engaging with local communities experiencing rapid global change. Each field school has particular strengths and areas of expertise but all share common commitment and capability in cross-disciplinary training.  As part of this RCN we propose to connect these and other field schools to share best practices and better ESD integration, develop better outreach, teaching, and heritage conservation tools and provide a graduated educational experience for training young professionals. We will use field school venues as sites for RCN field retreats aimed at connecting all three project foci more directly with students and participating local communities.

NB: No funds are requested to support field projects of any kind-we are making use of existing funded projects to add value to the RCN as productive venues for RCN activity.

c) Place Based Learning: We propose to enhance and expand a place based community engagement program begun under the International Polar Year effort (2007-10) called GPS+Camera=Empowerment.  This program began as a response to community and local school interest in long-term “longitudinal” research programs conducted over multiple seasons by teams in N Iceland, Barbuda, and Orkney, where local schools became involved in the combined international science and field school education programs (especially the Research Experience for Undergrads REU conducted under Perdikaris’ Islands of Change NSF REU) conducted for years in these communities. Rural students (and their teachers) interacting with media-savvy inner city students and a range of international grad students and senior researchers produced some innovative ideas on how to use simple digital technology to productively engage local students and teachers in multi-disciplinary science both to build curricular strengths and to inter-connect communities with each other and with real cutting edge sustainability science.  GPS+Camera project provided hand held Garmin GPS units and sturdy 10 MP digital cameras to interested schools to allow classes to locate and document places of environmental, historical, and heritage interest.

Different groups have identified their own priorities: the Icelandic Kids Archaeology Iceland Project (KAPI initially focused upon recording and preserving traditional place names through elder interviews that record place name spot, surroundings, and all ethnographic information. These data are being collected with help from the Icelandic National Placename Institute in Reykjavik and a generous donation of base map software from Garmin Iceland. The Icelandic Ministry for Education has provided support for a joint appointment of senior teacher Sif Jóhannesdóttir to Hafralaekja High School, the KAPI program, and the local Husavík Museum. In Barbuda, the Barbuda High School has collaborated with the local Codrington Lagoon National Park to use the kits to collect land use information and help monitor changes in lagoon ecology resulting from new fisheries center construction. In Orkney, Orkney College is working with Glaitness School in Kirkwall to develop a combined place name and coastal erosion heritage program in close cooperation with the Bradford/Orkney College Gateway to the Atlantic field school.

As noted in the required Data Management Plan (in supplementary documentation) NABO webmaster Anthony Newton (Edinburgh School of GeoSciences) has developed a user-friendly interface that allows scientific project participants to upload a wide range of digital data to a Google Earth-based display system (where the familiar balloons provide access to field data, photos, excavation registers, etc. Newton is working directly with  teachers and museums in our project areas so that they and their classes can also upload place-based findings and see their balloons float next to ours.  Critically, we have been able to put teachers and community sustainability activists in direct contact, with Barbudans visiting Iceland, Icelanders visiting Barbuda, and Orcadians hosting an Icelandic KAPI delegation for a three day workshop hosted by Orkney College (October 26-28 2010). In 2011, the Icelandic KAPI group will host teachers from Barbuda, Orkney, CUNY, and the Dalton School NYC for a week of interaction with each other and with field science teams working in the area.  In the proposed RCN we intend to promote these self-organizing inter-regional community level contacts to share their experiences in initiatives in using the long-term heritage perspective to enhance and develop their own local level ESD efforts with direct links to the compelling new stories emerging from focus 1 and the enhanced digital resources created and integrated by focus 2 teams.

The proposed GHEA focus 3 team effort will thus pool international perspectives on ESD pedagogies in the HE curriculum in the Historical Disciplines, Environmental Sciences and Anthropology; create knowledge hubs and knowledge transfers for ESD; promote linkages between research and school curricula; make fuller use of existing field schools to provide hands on engagement with students, professionals, and local residents, create new material for dissemination via sustainability social network tools, and make multiple energized synergistic connections between cutting edge sustainability science and sustainability education.

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