History and Its Uses in the NSF Long-Term Ecological Research Network
Wednesday, August 12, 2015: 1:30 PM-5:00 PM
317, Baltimore Convention Center
The NSF Long-Term Ecological Research Program (LTER) began in 1980 and now includes 26 sites. Its purpose is to assemble long-term data sets of ecological phenomena of all kinds. The concept of long-term research is inherently historical in that it deals with the past. The job of historians is to interpret the past, particularly the human past. In recent years historians and historical research have contributed to the LTER enterprise in several ways. Such historical work adds a humanistic dimension to LTER science and has also added significant long-term data, often much longer-term than the 30-odd years of the LTER. Such data affords valuable information for current science about change over time.
This Organized Oral Session includes contributions from a number of different LTER sites and from scientists, social scientists, and historians. These contributions highlight the diversity of possible historical approaches to ecological research and the challenges and rewards offered by different kinds of historical data. They also highlight the many applications of such data to the larger LTER enterprise. We define history broadly to encompass prehistoric time as well as recent human activity, and the depth of human history varies broadly across LTER sites. While the Harvard Forest and, to a lesser extent, the Santa Barbara Coastal site can document hundreds of years of history, the first human presence in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica only occurred in the early years of the twentieth century. Urban sites such as the Baltimore LTER afford rich historical material about human interactions with the natural world. In addition, the challenges involved in archiving a vast array of historical data, including manuscripts, printed documents, maps, and images, creates an ecology of its own that can also inform future research. In all these cases, communication across disciplines is central, and historical data provides new challenges for data management.
Management of all kinds of data is increasingly central to science. Within the framework of the LTER system, historical data is especially important but also brings its own challenges of organization, access and interpretation across disciplines. As this session will show, innovative use of historical data is providing new questions and answers for ecological science. The centenary of ESA provides a perfect opportunity to examine the role history can play in current and future ecological research.