A Fulbright Experience in Croatia…

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Project Description and Fulbright Award Activities



Successful management of our planet’s landscapes is one of the most pressing issues for the future of many communities, states, and nations across the globe. Indeed, whether situated in the forests of western Belize, the deserts of southern Peru, or across the diverse terrain of the Eastern Adriatic, understanding past landscapes and their mechanisms of change is crucial to future projections and policies concerning the longevity of resource management and human resilience. Of paramount importance is the recognition that humans and the environment are not dichotomous entities, but rather integrated components of a complex whole. Croatia presents a particularly important case study because it displays a tremendous mix of environmental diversity, rich cultural history, and current economic growth and development. It thus offers an ideal context in which to carry out a project centered on the links between long-term environmental change, human agency, and contemporary land use practices. An integrated teaching and research Fulbright award to the University of Zadar, Croatia, will permit me the extraordinary opportunity to bring an explicitly problem-oriented research perspective to Croatian scholars and students as it relates to the role of humans in our changing planet. It will also help me to build the collaborative ties necessary to carry out a new line of research along the Eastern Adriatic, one with conceptual value and practical application.


Project Overview

Landscapes are physical expressions of long, historical interactions between humans and the environment. To effectively understand and measure the historical role of humans in landscape evolution requires the collective efforts of scholars from a variety of disciplines. As an environmental archaeologist, I have been trained to study humanity’s past within a field that prides itself on the interdisciplinary nature of its subject matter. Anthropology, geography, history, and the environmental sciences all play critical roles in archaeological understanding of the relationship between environmental change and human agency. While this relationship is often assessed in post-industrial era contexts, in reality the human stamp on the physical world can be identified thousands of years into the past. These “land use legacies,” whether deemed to be acts of improvement, degradation, or simply alteration, transform the physical world with which subsequent peoples are left to interact. The Eastern Adriatic region, the focus of this project, has witnessed a long history of human colonization, management of coastal and inland resources, urban growth and decline, and political and socioeconomic change. Understanding landscape evolution in the context of this dynamic human past is critical for contemporary Croatian communities and their quest to develop and maintain effective environmental policy and resource management practices for the future.

This interdisciplinary teaching and research project will provide an overview of landscape evolution and human agency along Croatia’s coast over the past two millennia, essentially from early Roman colonization, through the Medieval period, and into the present era. While it should be recognized that significant and long-lasting human impacts on the Dalmatian environment occurred long before Roman colonization, urban development, economic specialization, and centralized political authority intensified during this period and thus presents a manageable starting point. The focus of teaching activities will be my interdisciplinary course titled Human Impacts on Ancient Environments, which is designed to explore conceptual and methodological approaches to delineate human agency in environmental change. I will also provide guest lectures for existing courses, hold public lectures to engage the broader community, and offer assistance with curriculum development and thesis advisement, as requested. In collaboration with Croatian scholars, the focus of research activities will be to compile published data from the archaeological, cultural, historical, and environmental sciences as they relate to landscape evolution and resource management along the Eastern Adriatic over the past two millennia. These data, in conjunction with on-site assessment of landscape features, will then be utilized to target specific regions in the Eastern Adriatic that will be suitable for a program of interdisciplinary field research beyond the Fulbright award period. While my limitations in Croatian will pose some challenges, these will not thwart the overall objectives of the project. English has been deemed sufficient for teaching in Croatia, while a significant amount of relevant literature has been published in English as well. Croatian collaborators with whom I have shared correspondence over the past several months also communicate in English fluently. In addition, facilitated by my prior training in language acquisition, one of my immediate professional tasks is to develop basic vocabulary and structural knowledge of the Croatian language.

Teaching Activities

My regular course load at the University of Maine consists of both large introductory classes (~350 students) and small lecture and seminar-style courses (~15-20 students). In each case, I take an explicitly comparative approach in order to better integrate global processes of change and variation into course curriculum. To this end, I regularly incorporate contemporary global issues like urban growth, social inequality, sustainability, and environmental degradation into my classes as they relate to past societies. Consequently, distant peoples and places are brought into a single conceptual framework, which in turn transforms the past into a valid inquiry in today’s world. I also strive to create an interactive learning environment. While lectures form a significant component of the curriculum, discussion and class projects (e.g., papers, presentations) are designed to foster interaction among students in order to become more actively engaged in the learning process. I also utilize ongoing research and public events to augment student involvement outside of the classroom. By necessity, I maintain a degree of flexibility in my teaching, since open dialogue and the inclusion of relevant current events in class discussion can sometimes result in unpredictable, though often highly rewarding, departures from the standard course schedule.

I will offer my course Human Impacts on Ancient Environments during spring 2013 semester, which will be used to directly integrate students into the proposed research design. The class attracts advanced undergraduate and graduate students and draws from archaeology, geography, geology, and ecology to assess the local, regional, and global impacts of humans on our planet. The long, diachronic approach taken serves to broaden student understanding of how humans have catalyzed landscape change and resource distribution deep in the past, and ultimately how this perspective may inform contemporary resource management and environmental policy for the future. Curriculum is divided into several analytical units, including urbanism, agriculture, marine ecosystem management, and sustainability – variables that can be examined comparatively across the globe and constitute explicit elements of the research component of this project. In addition to class lectures, reading assignments, and discussion, students will complete a semester-long research project that includes an annotated bibliography of published literature (approximately 20 entries) followed by an oral presentation at the end of the semester. Annotated bibliographies consist of two parts: an approximately one-page objective summary of the selected article that outlines the basic research question, methodology, and primary conclusion(s) of the author(s), followed by an approximately one-page exposition of the conceptual and methodological links between the selected paper and course curriculum (i.e., lectures, readings, points of discussion). All annotated bibliographies will be written in English. Seven of the 20 entries will be assigned from class readings (all English publications), while the remaining 13 will be acquired during independent student research. Project grades will be based on the clarity and succinctness of the summary as outlined in the assignment, and the degree to which students make explicit links between select papers and the broader course curriculum. In those cases where students utilize Croatian publications during independent research, evaluation will be based on the consistency of their work relative to their assigned English publication entries, and their demonstrable grasp of course material as reflected in the discussion portion of each reference. I will provide written and verbal feedback on all assigned entries early in the semester so that students will have a solid grasp of the expected degree of detail and conceptual development prior to commencing individual research projects.

Students typically select a single topic of interest (agriculture, sustainable policy, resource depression, biodiversity, etc.) and pursue it in a geographic and temporal context of their choice. However, to better integrate the teaching and research components proposed for this award, the 13 independently researched entries will be restricted to the Eastern Adriatic over the course of the past two millennia, though the specific topic of interest will remain open. This, I hope, will accomplish two very important objectives. First, the assignment is designed to pique student interest in working closely with Croatian scholars and me on the proposed research project as it develops, and subsequently during the development and implementation of active field research beyond the Fulbright award period. Second, since my individual research activities will be restricted largely to English publications (for clarification, see ‘Research Activities’ below), student projects in English will effectively direct me to relevant research published in the Croatian language that I may then pursue further with Croatian colleagues. In this manner, both instructor and students will benefit greatly from the experience.

I am intimately familiar with the challenges of second language acquisition and communication. While I studied Spanish as a second language in college and continue to utilize it in my own research and experiences in Latin America, I also had the opportunity to teach several Spanish courses in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of New Mexico while pursuing my doctorate. As part of the teaching philosophy of that department, I was permitted to communicate in Spanish only. In other words, the first language of most students (English) was strictly forbidden in class. To convey information and concepts in the target language, I utilized a variety of techniques that included speaking at a moderate pace, focusing on word articulation, and rephrasing ideas in different ways, fully recognizing the heterogeneous nature of student strengths and skill sets in Spanish as a second language. I believe these strategies can be successfully employed in the Croatian university classroom as well, where English will be the second language. I will also utilize lectures and class discussions as a way to gauge student comprehension and adjust accordingly. Reading and writing assignments, while always a challenge in a second language, will be tailored from my normal course offerings to allow ample time for completion.

Research Activities

Croatia’s position at the crossroads of Central Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Near East has lent itself to a wide range of cultural and environmental research, varying from archaeological investigation of early Neolithic farming, to sea-level change in the Eastern Adriatic, to more recent agricultural histories of the Neretvian area. Perhaps of greatest relevance to this project is the 1980s investigation carried out in the Zadar lowlands, which was designed to reconstruct the evolution of society and landscape from the early Holocene through the Roman period (see Chapman et al. 1987, 1996). Over the past decade, specific focus on the environmental history of the Eastern Adriatic has intensified. Also evident in recent literature is Croatia’s interest in contemporary economic growth, policy development, and the environment. This project complements and builds upon these previous and ongoing studies in the Eastern Adriatic by surveying relevant English and Croatian research to extract data that reflect cultural and environmental change from early Roman colonization to the present era. The results will be used to identify particular regions that are both suitable for a future program of interdisciplinary field research and of significant concern for contemporary land use, economic development, and environmental policy.

The research activity will accomplish several clearly-defined goals that contribute to the overall objective. (1) I will survey published literature in the cultural, geographic, historical, and environmental sciences for data that speak to environmental change, landscape evolution, and resource management over the past 2000 years in the Eastern Adriatic region. Specific variables of interest include sea level dynamics; precipitation; changes in vegetation and ground cover; sedimentation and erosion; soil chemistry; urbanism; population growth; economic organization; agricultural land use practices; and subsistence and diet. Relevant scholarship published in the Croatian language will be evaluated while working closely with Croatian scholars and students. All independent research I conduct will be reserved for journal articles and book-length manuscripts published in English, or, when available, Croatian manuscripts that can be translated on-line. Importantly, I have identified a significant number of scholarly journals that publish, in English, environmental and cultural research related to the Eastern Adriatic. A small sample of these includes Antiquity, Geoadria, Geologia Croatica, Hrvatski Geografski Glasnik, Journal of Dalmatian Archaeology and History, Journal of European Archaeology, Journal of Medieval History, Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, Journal of Mediterranean Ecology, Medieval Archaeology, Quaternary International, and World Archaeology. These (and many others) are either accessible through UMaine’s electronic library resources or have an open access policy. (2) Historic maps of the region will provide useful complementary data regarding past land use, settlement, and resource distribution. A visit to the Croatian State Archives in Zagreb, and time permitting, the regional state archives situated near the coast in Pazin, Rijeka, Gospić, Zadar, Split, and/or Dubrovnik will be important in order to inspect historic maps housed in these facilities. (3) Relevant data obtained from this research will be organized into discrete units for analytical purposes. Initially, data might be organized according to the seven Croatian counties positioned along the littoral zone: Istria, Primorje-Gorski Kotar, Lika-Senj, Zadar, Šibenik-Knin, Split-Dalmatia, and Dubrovnik-Neretva. Many contain vibrant urban centers like Pula, Split, or Dubrovnik with historical roots deep into the past (i.e., Medieval period, Roman, or earlier), exhibit a variety of both coastal and inland resource management practices, and have been the focus of a variety of cultural and paleoenvironmental studies. However, since current delineations of counties in Croatia were established recently (1990), data might be organized more effectively according to physiographic boundaries that follow river drainages, mountain ranges, lake basins, or coastal inlets. The appropriate organizational method will be determined in collaboration with Croatian scholars, since the ultimate purpose will be to target specific areas suitable for a program of field research sometime after the Fulbright award period. (4) Utilizing the intersession, weekends, and other available times, I will visit specific regions along the Eastern Adriatic to gauge the intensity and kinds of landscape modifications present. Landesque capital like aqueducts, canals, terraces, field walls, drained fields, and other semi-permanent changes to the landscape will be of particular interest, as will the potential for nearby locations to yield local and regional paleo-environmental signals that can complement existing information (e.g., wetlands, lake basins). So that I may utilize my time most efficiently, high-resolution satellite imagery available on Google Earth will aid in the identification of specific areas with greatest potential prior to physical inspection. (5) Data collected in this project will be used to identify specific areas suitable for the development of a collaborative field research program subsequent to the Fulbright award period. Those areas that exhibit a history of intensive human settlement and land use, a wide range of sites and temporal affiliations, and a foundation of paleoenvironmental information on which to build will be most attractive for future work. Areas deemed important for policy development and the successful management of cultural and environmental resources in the context of Croatia’s growing economy will also take precedence.

Outcomes and Benefits

This project will demonstrate the important ways in which archaeology and other historical sciences can provide conceptual value and practical application to contemporary issues of human agency, landscape evolution, general resource management, and policy. Croatia’s combination of a rich dynamic past, a wealth of cultural and environmental resources, an emerging economy, and a significant interest in future development renders this project all the more timely. Upon return to the U.S., this award will also permit me to more effectively integrate a Mediterranean component (broadly conceived) into my courses, utilizing Croatian landscapes and cultures as a key study. Furthermore, it will give me the opportunity to pique the interest of my UMaine colleagues and students in the long-term goals of this project. My hope is that it will not only lay the foundation for a future program of collaborative research, but that it may catalyze an international exchange relationship of students and faculty between host and home institutions. Moreover, this award will offer new insights into teaching and research in higher education, provide comparative perspectives on my work in Latin America, and help to build a foundation for the next stage of my professional career. Finally, to develop this project in an unfamiliar cultural, academic, and linguistic setting will offer a deeply rewarding experience for my family and me, providing us a chance to grow in new directions, meet new friends and colleagues, and immerse ourselves in contemporary Croatian society as we explore its rich cultural past.


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