University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Fall 2013 Course-Resilience and Sustainability: What Are We Learning from the Maya and Other Ancient Cultures?

Fall 2013
Instructors: Josh Feinberg (Earth Sciences), Kat Hayes (Anthropology), Phyllis Messenger (Institute for Advanced Study)
Schedule: Mondays 2-4 p.m. as follows: September 9, 23; October 14, November 18; December 2. Participants are also encouraged to attend the conference “Resilience and Sustainability: What Are We Learning from the Maya and Other Ancient Cultures?” November 7-9.
Location: Nolte Center
Composition: Faculty, graduate students, professional staff

Participation Information

Course Description:

This faculty seminar is organized by the Teaching Heritage Collaborative as part of University Symposium on Site and Incitement. The seminar will examine the intersection of archaeology, earth sciences, and sustainability studies. It will prepare faculty and graduate student participants for a November conference on resilience and sustainability. The seminar will 1) consider case studies of past environment, climate, and society as they are presented from the perspectives of archaeology and earth science, and 2) compare the significance of these studies to contemporary heritage representations (what aspects of the past are highlighted and valued?) and public policy on sustainability (what future do we imagine for the human relationship to the environment?). Seminar participants will be encouraged to participate in the November conference, as well as two synthesizing sessions after the conference.


The conference will take place November 7-9 at the University of Minnesota and the Science Museum of Minnesota. Archaeologists working in the Maya area, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and around the world are uncovering evidence of social change related to shifts in resources, political power, and climate. As archaeologists and their collaborators work to make their findings accessible to scholars in other fields and to the public, they are questioning traditionally held notions of societal collapse and failure (e.g., P. McAnany & N. Yoffee, eds., Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire, Cambridge 2010) and re-examining datasets and questions (e.g., A. Chase & V. Scarborough, eds., The Resilience and Vulnerability of Ancient Landscapes: Transforming Maya Archaeology through IHOPE, 2013, American Anthropological Association; R. Costanza, L. Graumlich & W. Steffen, eds., Sustainability or Collapse? An Integrated History and Future of People on Earth, 2007, MIT Press). Paying particular attention to temporal and geographic scales, they are using lessons from the past in order to contribute more directly to discussions of survival, resilience, renewal, and sustainability for today and in the future. At the same time, environmental scientists are using archaeological data and knowledge to help inform their models and reconstructions of past environments and landscape change. And in broader discussions involving scholars, policy makers, community leaders, and others, traditional notions of sustainability for present and future generations are being challenged by such concepts as resilience as a means to persist despite disruptions.

The IAS, the Science Museum of Minnesota (mounting a major exhibit in 2013, Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed), the Maya Society of Minnesota, and other partners will host a three-day conference for scholars in archaeology, earth sciences, climate studies, and sustainability studies, to explore new ways of thinking about knowledge production in areas that cut across all these fields. They will focus on opportunities for collaboration in research that will contribute to enhanced understanding of past, present, and future aspects of survival and sustainability. Registration details for the conference will be available on the IAS website in summer 2013.

Participation Information

The seminar is open to faculty, graduate students, and professional staff. If you are interested in participating in the “Resilience and Sustainability: What Are We Learning from the Maya and Other Ancient Cultures?” seminar, please send a brief email to Phyllis Messenger at outlining your interest in the seminar. Please send this statement as soon as possible. The seminar will be limited to 20 participants; materials will be provided. Those selected to participate in the seminar will be expected to make a firm commitment to attend all seminar meetings. Graduate students can register for directed studies through Professors Hayes ( or Feinberg (

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