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Toward an Integrated History to Guide the Future

Sander van der Leeuw, Arizona State University
Robert Costanza, Institute for Sustainable Solutions, Portland State University
Steve Aulenbach, NEON, Inc.
Simon Brewer, University of Utah
Michael Burek, National Center for Atmospheric Research
Sarah Cornell, University of Bristol
Carole Crumley, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Stockholm Resilience Centre
John A Dearing, University of Southampton
Catherine Downy, University of Bristol
Lisa J. Graumlich, University of Washington
Scott Heckbert, Institute for Sustainable Solutions, Portland State University
Michelle Hegmon, Arizona State University
Kathy Hibbard, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Stephen T. Jackson, University of Wyoming
Ida Kubiszewski, Institute for Sustainable Solutions, Portland State University
Paul Sinclair, Uppsala University
Sverker Sörlin, Royal Institute of Technology; Stockholm Resilience Centre
Will Steffen, Australian National University


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Many contemporary societal challenges manifest themselves in the domain of human–environment interactions. There is a growing recognition that responses to these challenges formulated within current disciplinary boundaries, in isolation from their wider contexts, cannot adequately address them. Here, we outline the need for an integrated, transdisciplinary synthesis that allows for a holistic approach, and, above all, a much longer time perspective. We outline both the need for and the fundamental characteristics of what we call “integrated history.” This approach promises to yield new understandings of the relationship between the past, present, and possible futures of our integrated human–environment system. We recommend a unique new focus of our historical efforts on the future, rather than the past, concentrated on learning about future possibilities from history. A growing worldwide community of transdisciplinary scholars is forming around building this Integrated History and future of People on Earth (IHOPE). Building integrated models of past human societies and their interactions with their environments yields new insights into those interactions and can help to create a more sustainable and desirable future. The activity has become a major focus within the global change community.

Key words

agency; anthropocene; backcasting; causality; contingency; holistic approach; integrated history; long-term perspective; resilience; social and ecological systems

Copyright © 2011 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087