A broad range of natural hazards long have confronted human societies. Through analyses of societies that have persisted over very long periods of time, information and insights can be obtained regarding strategies and approaches that have fostered societal resilience, especially when hazards have been recurrent. This interdisciplinary research project will employ theories and data from a broach range of fields, including cultural anthropology, archaeology, psychology, geography, and climatology in order to compare and contrast a diverse set of populations subject to different levels of frequency and predictability of natural hazards, with special attention given to hazards that have impacted food supplies. Because the investigators will be examining a set of world-wide databases to characterize hazard-related dynamics of human societies and cultures over time and space, project findings will help enhance basic understanding of the factors that have influenced societal success in dealing with various natural hazards. The project also will assist policy makers, planners, decision makers, and others in trying to mitigate the consequences of hazardous events by providing a much broader framework of knowledge regarding solutions that societies have arrived at over decades, centuries, or millennia. The project also will provide special interdisciplinary education and training opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students and for post-doctoral scholars.

This project will compare societies and populations normally studied by different disciplines, testing theories derived from each of the disciplines across varied geographic and temporal domains. To maximize the range of both environmental and cultural diversity, the investigators will compare and contrast worldwide samples that vary in the frequency, severity, and predictability of hazards experience related to food production, storage, and availability. Research questions that the investigators will consider include the following: How often have events had to occur in order for humans to plan for them? Do unpredictable hazards lead to different cultural transformations than do more predictable hazards? Under what conditions are contingency plans overwhelmed in the face of natural hazards that are more severe or more frequent than normal? The investigators will test hypotheses by conducting analyses and developing models across three different domains and datasets: (1) a worldwide sample of more than 100 largely preindustrial ("traditional") societies described by ethnographers; (2) a worldwide sample of prehistoric traditions described by archaeologists; (3) and a worldwide sample of 33 contemporary countries with data collected through individual interviews. To compliment data on natural hazards from historical and contemporary observations, the investigators will develop measures of environmental predictability and variability based on rainfall and temperature data, and they will assemble paleoclimate data to complement the archaeological dataset. Controlling for different types of economies and political systems, the researchers expect to identify patterns of resilient behaviors in time and space, such as contingency plans, subsistence diversification, and sociocultural transformations that expand and solidify cooperation and networks. These analyses will help identify the approaches used by societies that have enabled them to have more or less success in preparing for extreme events and for reducing their adverse impacts. This project is supported through the NSF Interdisciplinary Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (IBSS) competition.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
SBE Office of Multidisciplinary Activities (SMA)
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Jeffrey Mantz
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New Haven
United States
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