“The emergence of interdisciplinary environmental history: bridging the gap between the humanistic and scientific approaches to the Late Holocene”
Sources that contain deliberate, continuous and systematic hydrometeorological, atmospheric or astronomical observations (e.g., recording potentially weather-relevant sunspot, auroral or dust-veil phenomena) are highly prized, particularly for pre- or early instrumental periods. These include weather diaries, often the virtuoso productions of keen amateur (but also sometimes trained professional) observers, and employing set terminologies to describe phenomena and their intensities or durations, a practice arising from an awareness by the diarists of potential subjectivity in language and description. In Europe, these are principally available from the later medieval period onward, but systematic environmental observations were certainly maintained elsewhere in other (e.g. institutional) contexts, with standout examples being the Babylonian astronomical diaries that survive from the seventh to first centuries BCE, and Egyptian Nilometer records after 622 CE. But for Egypt before the 6-7th century CE, we mainly have indirect measurements of Nile flow and environmental change. This paper will discuss how the Yale Nile project reconstructs Nile conditions, the new database that we have produced, and what this all means for ancient history broadly.
The Yale Nile project examines the link between explosive volcanic eruptions and the annual Nile river summer flooding in antiquity. Large volcanic eruptions can reduce average global temperatures and suppress average global precipitation. This is known to have had dramatic effects on annual rainfall on the Nile watershed in historic times. The human response to this annual flooding, and to its variability over the years, was the major driver of Egyptian history up to the completion of the high dam at Aswan in 1970. By comparing rich historical records (papyrus documents and inscriptions) with environmental data and regional climate and hydrologic simulations for repeated abrupt climate events, the research will determine whether and how social dynamics are climate-driven, and whether and how human water management affects regional climate and hydrology. Volcanic eruptions provide tests of human and natural system sensitivity to abrupt shocks because their repeated occurrence allows the identification of systematic relationships in the presence of random variability. The project will make three important contributions: (1) integrate historical data from a wealth of different archives to analyze the connections between climate variability, social unrest, and institutional change during the Hellenistic era; (2) improve knowledge of hydrological responses to volcanic eruptions; (3) document the extent of human impacts on Mediterranean hydrology.
J.G. Manning was educated at The Ohio State University and the University of Chicago, which included a year-long American Research Center in Egypt Fellowship that allowed him the opportunity to live and travel US AID throughout Egypt, and a year studying at Cambridge University. His research has two primary research foci, the economic and legal History of the Hellenistic world, with a focus on Ptolemaic Egypt, and Egyptian history in the long run. At Yale he is the William K. and Marilyn M. Simpson Professor of History and of Classics, with appointments also in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Yale Law School, and the School of the Environment. Manning’s work now takes him in some new and exciting directions, including working on climatic change, Nile river flooding and societal responses with a major grant from the US National Science Foundation.