Archaeologies of Empire and Environment

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

This symposium brings together archaeologists studying environment and empire across time and space to discuss the role that agriculture and land use plays in imperial strategies. This session asks how plants, animals, and other environmental resources become entangled in imperial acts of conquest and colonization, exploitation and inculcation.

This archaeological approach invites theoretical and methodological perspectives that connect imperial strategies with their environmental settings and imbue the environment with political criticality. They include environmental archaeologies that investigate local/regional signatures of empire; historical ecologies that ask how land management affects imperial biographies; political ecologies that presume environmental regimes have political valence; and new materialisms that infuse the non-human world with agency.

When archaeologists view imperial land use and environmental management as forms of statecraft, the political landscape moves from metaphor to unit of analysis, and ecofacts, gain empirical heft as artifacts of empire. This perspective reinstates an appreciation for the political economies of agrarian states, with all the resource flows and divisions of labor that surplus cultivation entails. At the same time, this approach treats political economies as human-environment interactions, which opens up all kinds of new questions, challenges, and approaches to the intersections of empire and environment.