Learning from the Past

Historic Photo


Learning from the Past: Historical Lessons for Sustainability and Resilience in a Changing Environment

A project by Dr. Lee Mordechai (History) and Dr. Amit Tubi (Geography)

The broadness of the phrases “climate change” and “environmental change” tends to obfuscate the experiences and challenges that humans worldwide will face as the planet warms and the oceans acidify – affecting crops, fauna, weather patterns, and more.

Yet it would be a mistake to assume that, until now, the climate has remained static. In fact, fluctuations have always occurred – forcing humans to cope and adapt to various forms of environmental stress across the ages. Despite these changes, Dr. Lee Mordechai and Dr. Amit Tubi warn against taking a deterministic approach and attributing all societal shifts and cultural changes to environmental factors.

“By focusing solely on the environment, we overlook how past societies themselves have changed. We risk reaching irrelevant conclusions, since the past is not an entirely accurate indicator for understanding the present.”

Dr. Lee Mordechai and Dr. Amit Tubi have received funding from the Hebrew University’s Center for Sustainability to study how past societies have coped with such stress. By analyzing examples from the historical record, they will gain a better understanding of human-environment interactions, with an emphasis on a critical and methodical approach to learning from history.

For starters, they have seen that academic studies often reflect fads. A heightened cultural awareness of particular problems, such as disease or climate chance, may affect academic studies, tending to pinpointing historical shifts on the “hot topic.” By conducting a meta-analysis of these studies within their own cultural contexts, the pair of researchers hopes to draw more accurate analogies for understanding the present – and develop policy recommendations for ways to cope with climate change in the 21st century.