We are a group of interdisciplinary researchers working on an ongoing research project investigating the present and historic French landscape of the past 250 years in a research area encompassing the Commune of Uxeau, (about 33 sq. km.) and its surrounding area (about 136 sq. km.) in the Burgundy region of France.  The working group is documenting the land and water use over the 250 year time period in the region and looking for patterns of persistence and change.  These patterns will allow us to discuss many topics, such as how theoretical perspectives (for example resilience theory) are reflected in our data and issues of current land use policy.  We recently received a 2012-2013 Project Grant from Dumbarton Oaks Garden and Landscape Studies which will assist in furthering our research.

Our research area is located in the central area of the red circle

The research area has a long agricultural and pastoral history, dating back to the Celtic and Roman periods. The persistence of high agricultural productivity suggests that in spite of intermittent political instability, profound economic transformations, and significant environmental disturbances, this landscape of Burgundy has been notably resilient over the long term.

This project revolves around three central research questions. First, what land and water use practices have persisted or disappeared over the past two and half centuries in the research area? Answers to this question will enable us to identify the basic features of this socio-ecological landscape. Second, what land and water use practices, or a combination of practices, have been critical in maintaining the long-term resilience of this socio-ecological landscape? Answers to this second question will allow us to identify key elements of enduring land and water use practices, and the character of the relationship between these elements. Third, what values and meanings do inhabitants attach to these key elements, in both historical and contemporary contexts? Answers to this question will allow us to ascertain the continuity and changes in attitudes and perceptions over time, and the role these perceptions play in resiliency. The process of answering each of these questions will require the integration of disparate data from the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities and the comparison of historical and contemporary socio-ecological landscapes.

Our current research includes four separate but integrated research foci:  1) Spatial analysis is conducted using advanced remote sensing, GIS and GPS, with specific emphasis on the incorporation of historical data in the form of cartography, aerial photographs, and remote sensing into a multi-temporal, integrated GIS database that is available for use by all team members; 2) Documentary research is conducted through the analysis of historical records pertaining to land use; 3) Geological analysis of pond sediments and pollen cores provides long-term records of environmental and land use change;  4) Oral history and contemporary ethnographic interviews with farmers and local residents investigate water and land use practices, along with corresponding changes in perceptions and attitudes over time. The comparison of the results of these distinct research activities serves to verify and calibrate the individual interpretations, and the integration of the results provides a fuller and more complex understanding of the factors and issues involved.

This project demonstrates that diverse investigations involving data and methods from the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities can be conducted in a coordinated and integrated manner. Advanced technologies such as geological sedimentary analysis, palynology, geographic information systems, remote sensing, and digital historical cartography are combined with well-established techniques of historical documentary and oral history analysis to better understand the changing nature of this highly productive agricultural landscape. This integration enhances our understanding of the relationships that persist to produce a landscape that maintains its resilience over time.

A shrubbery from the town center of Uxeau