Call for Papers: Rural History 2019 Panel – Interdisciplinary approaches to understanding the bio-cultural heritage of forests in Europe

RHN 189/2018 | Call

Organisers: Seth Murray (North Carolina State University) and Cosmin Ivascu (Babeş-Bolyai University)

Rural History 2019, 10-13 September 2019, Paris, France

Deadline for paper proposals: 21 January 2019

Call for Papers:
Rural History 2019 Panel
Interdisciplinary approaches to understanding the bio-cultural heritage of forests in Europe

Forests have long played an integral role in agrarian systems of Europe. Understanding the complex bio-cultural heritage of forests requires an interdisciplinary examination of the different ways in which forests have been used. A comprehensive history of forests must assess the various demands and needs that people have had of forests at different moments in times, the broader economic and cultural functions that forests have played in society, and the influence that political decisions and human activities have perennially had on the development and maintenance of forests. The bio-cultural heritage of forests may include the legacy of hunting, mining, grazing by cattle, sheep, or pigs, as well as various activities related to charcoal production, construction lumber, firewood, or wood fencing. Looking at pre-industrial activities and the historical dependence of agrarian systems on forest resources, which may be overlooked by contemporary ecologists and agricultural historians, can help us understand the persistence of traditional land uses, such as grazed forests, and the way these uses have shaped current forests patterning and composition. There are also important components of bio-cultural heritage to investigate in the relationships between technology and traditional ecological knowledge. Engaging the bio-cultural heritage of the forest can help ascertain how and why forests have been cleared for cereal cultivation, grazing, or settlements, and how and why this process has sometimes been reversed. Interdisciplinary approaches to the bio-cultural heritage of forests in Europe may shed light on the increasing demand, over time, by forest owners for access to markets and income from activities beside forestry, such as tourism and leisure activities. There are also implications for the bio-cultural heritage of forests through the frameworks of the Common Agricultural Policy and the European Landscape Convention.

Presentations in this panel frame the bio-cultural heritage of forests as an effective means for understanding the historical trajectory of forest ecology, as well as for determining how multifunctional forests and woodlands fit into broader agrarian systems. Therein lies the conceptual challenge that compels an interdisciplinary approach since, for ecologists, forests aren’t automatically conceptualized in terms of their integration to the broader political economy, nor systemically examined for a history of human presence and activities. For historians, conversely, forests aren’t automatically seen for their regenerative potential nor for the diversity of altered habitats contained within them, and forests are often poorly described in historical documents. Realizing that forests oscillate between protection, conservation, and productive usage, this panel solicits contributors who trace the history of forests in Europe by interpreting both biodiversity and ecology, as well as the legacies of human activities and anthropogenic landscape changes.

We invite paper proposals for a panel that will include the Swedish example of Gotland, Romanian case studies from the Mara and Cosau valleys, and a Burgundian case study in the Saône-et-Loire department of France. All proposals should be submitted to Seth Murray ( Cosmin Ivascu (, as well as via the conference website:

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