Austria’s Professor Verena Winiwarter to discuss soil sustainability at public lecture

Scientist and historian Verena Winiwarter of Klagenfurt University in Austria will discuss sustainability and what soil can reveal at a public lecture on Wednesday, May 7, hosted by the Department of History, Faculty of Arts, at York.

Winiwarter, a professor at the Klagenfurt Institute for Social Ecology in the Faculty of Interdisciplinary Research & Education, will present her talk, titled "Sustainability Lost and Found? Lessons from the Long-term History of Soils in Europe", at 11am in the History Common Room, 2183 Vari Hall, Keele campus.

"Human life depends on soils. These complex eco-systems are less well understood than air and water, and are basically non-renewable resources," says Winiwarter. "Humans have interacted with soils from at least the Neolithic transformation onwards and have developed an impressive amount of interventions into these systems, optimizing them for human use, in agriculture, forestry and other biomass-related uses."

Right: Verena Winiwarter

To relate key concepts of our modern understanding of soils, Winiwarter will give a primer in soil science, followed by a quick tour through more than 2,000 years of European knowledge about soils, tillage, manure, soil remediation and related topics. She will then concentrate on material from a monastic library in Austria, where it is possible to reconstruct in detail what knowledge was available to the monks, and how they used it. 

"The long-term use, and abuse, of soils is a key sustainability question," says Winiwarter. The talk will end with a discussion of the implications on the current situation of soil.

Winiwarter’s talk coincides with the formalizing of institutional cooperation between York University and Klagenfurt University.

Trained as a scientist and historian, Winiwarter is the co-author of the innovative and acclaimed handbook Environmental History: an introduction (Köln, Weimar, Wien: Böhlau, 2007) and co-editor of Soils and Societies. Perspectives from Environmental History (Strond: White Horse Press, 2006).

She is also past president of the European Society for Environmental History, co-editor of the interdisciplinary quarterly Gaia – Ecological Perspectives for Science and Society, and holder of the first Austrian Chair in Environmental History.

The lecture is sponsored by York’s Department of History, Graduate Program in History and Office of the Associate Vice-President International.

Discussion and refreshments will follow the talk.