, Volume 120, Issue 3, pp 671-682
Date: 04 Jun 2013

Re-thinking colonialism to prepare for the impacts of rapid environmental change

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Abstract

This essay demonstrates how key concepts from ecology can be applied within historical analyses in order to gain insights regarding contemporary environmental change. We employ a coupled human and natural systems conceptual framework in a nascent historical analysis of rapid societal and environmental change in colonial New England, where European colonization led to stark and rapid transformations. Introduced diseases reduced indigenous communities to a fraction of their pre-contact levels. European agriculture and associated pest species, deforestation and overharvest of ecologically influential species were among key aspects of the rapid changes in colonial New England. Cross-continental biotic introductions initiated reinforcing feedback loops that accelerated the transition of human and natural systems into novel states. Integrating colonial history and ecology can help identify important interactions between human and natural systems useful for contemporary societies adjusting to environmental change.

This article is part of a Special Issue on “Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples in the United States: Impacts, Experiences, and Actions” edited by Julie Koppel Maldonado, Rajul E. Pandya, and Benedict J. Colombi.