History and Ecological Restoration

Research Focus Group on History and Ecological Restoration


Anita Guerrini, Professor, History & Environmental Studies, guerrini@history.ucsb.edu
Jenifer Dugan, Associate Research Biologist, Marine Science Institute, j_dugan@lifesci.ucsb.edu

This Research Focus Group will continue to explore issues raised by the NEH-funded research project “Historicizing Ecological Restoration.” This collaborative project, involving scholars in public history, history and philosophy of science, and ecology, aims to reassess the role of human history in the theory and practice of ecological restoration. By means of a case study of the UCSB West Campus, this project will provide a theoretical and practical basis for the integration of historical questions, methods, and approaches with the process of ecological restoration. This project addresses issues that have become increasingly prominent in many areas of history, including environmental history, cultural history, and public history, as well as in ecology and environmental ethics. These issues include the relationship between historical and cultural preservation and ecological restoration; the role and value of human history in the creation of the present environment; and the very definition of ecological restoration. Central to this project is the interdisciplinary integration of values and concepts.

Ecological restoration is a contested field of inquiry, in which values, ethics, and the very concept of restoration have been subject to wide disagreements. Restoration implies restoring a landscape to some previous state, but there is little agreement about what that state might be, or how to find out about it. Politics and values, as well as science, have significant impacts on restoration policies, and wide differences of opinion exist among those involved in restoration. These range from the view that restoration is a human construct and therefore ethically untenable to the view that restoration is virtually synonymous with preservation. While the definition of ecological restoration declared by the Society for Ecological Restoration in 1996 mentions “regional and historical context” as important factors, historians are not usually involved in the process of ecological restoration. Restoration ecologists acknowledge that their field lacks a theoretical base, but many remain wedded to a scientific point of view that admits little if any historical perspective. The conveners of this RFG contend that the basis of ecological restoration is fundamentally a historical question, but history, as it is practiced by historians, figures very little in the literature of restoration ecology.

The RFG will continue to bring together individuals who have already been involved with this project as well as others in public history, history of science, ecology, anthropology, and other disciplines to talk about the meaning of “restoration” in the specific context of the West Campus area and in the more general sense. The conveners are Anita Guerrini, Professor of Environmental Studies and History, and Jenifer Dugan, Associate Research Biologist with the Marine Science Institute. Other faculty who will participate are Randy Bergstrom (History) and Michael Glassow (Anthropology). We will also ask Milton Love (EEMB), Jim Reichman (NCEAS), Bruce Kendall (Bren), and Michael McGinnis (Bren) to participate, as well as Michael Williams and Cristina Sandoval of the UC Natural Reserve System. Postgraduate researchers Beverly Schwartzberg and Peter Neushul (both of History), senior museum scientist David Hubbard (EEMB) and administrator Lindsey Reed (Public History) will also participate. Graduate students who will participate are Dustin McKenzie of Anthropology, Karinna Hurley of Education, and Donald Burnette, Jill Jensen, and Peter Cortelyou of History. Public History undergraduate Deborah Bahn will also participate; she will enter the Public History graduate program in 2005.

Activities for the year will include regular monthly meetings (on Monday afternoons) in which the group will convene to discuss issues relevant to the theme, including aspects of their own research. At least some of these meetings will include assigned reading on topics in history, restoration, and ecology. The new volume Public History and the Environment ed. Scalapino and Melosi provides an excellent jumping-off point for the group and the plan is for members of the group to propose readings in their own disciplines that would be relevant to the project. Invitations to speak will be issued to David Foster, director of the Harvard Forest, co-author of the recent book Forests in Time; Carla D’Antonio, conservation biologist and incoming Schuyler Chair in Environmental Studies; Mike Williams of the Sedgwick Reserve; and Howard Wittausch, a local consultant on historical architecture and preservation.

Group activities to date:

Our group held monthly meetings on teh first Monday of each month starting in October 2004 in the IHC conference room. After the first organizational meeting held in October of 2004, each meeting consisted of a n update on ongoing research components for the West Campus study an in many cases a review or discussion of a paper or text. A list of the activities, presentations and materials discussed follows.

A field trip to visit the historical structures and landscapes of the Campbell Ranch is being scheduled for May 2005 meeting.

Guerrini, A. High Society and Chicken Ranching: the Campbell Ranch in the 1920’s

McGinnis, M. Bioregionalism. Planned for June 2005

Materials read and discussed in meetings:
The SER International Primer on Ecological Restoration produced by the Society for Ecological Restoration International Science & Policy Working Group (October 2004)

Watt, L. A., L. Raymond, and M. L. Eschen 2004. Reflections: On Preserving Ecological and Cultural Landscapes. Environmental History Vol 9, No. 4.

McGinnis, M. 1999. Bioregionalism-selected chapters