University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

 Resilience and Sustainability:
What are we learning from the Maya and Other Ancient Cultures

 2013 Hurst Heather San Bartolo N Wall Mural maya_sb_01-1_lg

This 2013 faculty seminar is organized by the Institute for Advanced Study and seeks to cultivate true cross-disciplinary research between faculty and graduate students within the University of Minnesota community. The focus of the seminar is cultural resilience and sustainability as viewed through the lens of archaeology and Earth science, and the timing of this informal course is meant to coincide broadly with the ongoing Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota

Course Context

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 these findings accessible to scholars in other fields and to the public, they are questioning traditionally held notions of societal collapse and failure. By re-examining datasets across a variety of 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. In broader discussions involving scholars, policy makers, community leaders, and others, traditional ideas of sustainability for present and future generations are being challenged by such concepts as resilience as a means to persist despite disruptions.

Course Goals
This seminar has three main aims:
  • At each of the five meetings we will discuss readings (of moderate length) that are available for download from the Materials page. Discussions of cultural resilience involve specialized vocabulary where certain words and terms may carry unanticipated and potentially controversial meaning.  Recognizing this, we hope to create an open environment where people are free to use whatever language comes most naturally.     
  • Seminar participants will be urged to attend the international symposium by the same name at the Science Museum of Minnesota, Thursday-Sunday, November 7-9.
  • Long after the seminar is complete, we hope that these discussions will spur ongoing dialogue and research initiatives between the University of Minnesota community and its regional partners.
Where and When: We will meet on the following five Mondays in the Nolte Center (map):
September 16 in Room 125 Nolte from 3:30 to 5:30 PM
September 30 in Room 235 Nolte from 2 to 4 PM
October 14 in Room 235 Nolte from 2 to 4 PM
November 18 in Room 235 Nolte from 2 to 4 PM
December 2 in Room 235 Nolte from 2 to 4 PM


Katherine Hayes
Phyllis Messenger
Institute for Advanced Study
Joshua Feinberg
Earth Sciences