OOS 31-7
Influences of soils on culture and society: Celebrating 2015 the International Year of Soils

Tuesday, August 11, 2015: 3:40 PM
336, Baltimore Convention Center
Melanie Szulczewski, University of Mary Washington

The United Nations has declared 2015 the International Year of Soils (IYS) to “raise full awareness among civil society and decision makers about the profound importance of soil for human life.” Soil undeniably serves as the foundation for many ecosystem services that humans rely on. Without healthy soils, our climate, food supply, freshwater resources would be disrupted. Less recognized, however, is the importance of soils to society in a cultural sense. The monthly theme for December during IYS is Soils, Culture, and People to highlight these social connections. This talk will explore the “social services” that soils have contributed to human societies around the world and throughout history. Our modern societies continue to rely on and expand these social services that soils provide. A close examination of several civilizations will demonstrate the aesthetic, practical, and symbolic significance of soils to religion, literature, art, architecture, and our modern social constructs.  


Soil has played a vital role for human cultures and societies for thousands of years, affecting their survival and many aspects of life and even death. Diverse religions, artists, and writers have used soil to explain or symbolize birth, fertility, decay, and renewal. Soils and their products are used by artisans and architects to create and symbolize hearth and home. Recent innovations use soils to learn and teach in a variety of settings, including urban neighborhoods, prisons, and schools. Only by understanding the depth and breadth of the dependence of a vibrant society on healthy, productive soils can today’s citizens rally behind the efforts to combat the accelerating degradation, erosion, and unsustainable use of our soils.