Ethnohistory, environmental history, and ethnobiology

Session Organizer(s): 
Sarah Walshaw

History as a discipline is facing questions about its relevance, in an era of declining student enrolments and calls to decolonize a traditionally Eurocentric and ivory-tower pursuit. Ethnobiology, as an interdisciplinary study of human inter-relationships with the biological world, has the potential to contribute theoretical principles and methods to the study of History more broadly, and in particular to the subfields of Environmental History and Ethnohistory. Ethnobiological approaches allow greater access to Indigenous worldviews and logics of the natural world by putting into conversation data from ethnography, historical ecology, oral history, and the documented past. In enquiring about emic systems of ordering nature and human society, ethnobiologists can put into context non-linear modes of time, systems of kinship (human and non-human), and ways of creating, keeping, and transmitting knowledge. Perhaps most significantly, ethnobiology offers a methodological intervention that places Indigenous knowledge holders as collaborators in – and not merely subjects of -  research design, data collection and interpretation, and dissemination of knowledge. Such perspectives and methods offer a pathway to decolonizing historical studies, and bring into focus Indigenous experiences and observations of climate change, food sovereignty, health and healing, and land management, all pressing issues to reconciliation.