Appraising Risk, Past and Present: Interrogating Historical Data to Enhance Understanding of Environmental Crises in the Indian Ocean World

Partnership including Jon D. Unruh

Project Description

The Indian Ocean World (IOW), a distinct and significant global socio-ecological system, has always been profoundly affected by a complex interplay between human and environmental factors – notably the monsoons, El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), cyclones and volcanism. As such, it offers a unique laboratory in which to explore how humans have coped with environmental crises over time. In this ground-breaking, multidisciplinary initiative, leading scholars and students of history, religion, philosophy, anthropology, geography, geospatial science, climatology, and data and environmental risk analysis experts, in collaboration with Partner Organizations, will investigate six of the greatest environmental crises in the IOW since the mid-6th century — crises characterized, variously, by significant climate change, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, droughts/floods, epidemic disease, socio-economic instability, mass migration, and high mortality. It will, for the first time (1) construct past-to-present patterns of human and environmental factors at work before, during, and following each selected crisis period; (2) ascertain current and traditional IOW perceptions of environmental risk and risk management; and (3) use the results of this historical research to enhance currently employed ERPG protocols. Given the accelerating pace of environmental change, this project is timely and highly significant. It will heighten the ability of the most vulnerable IOW communities to manage adverse environmental risks, enhance security in the world’s most environmentally and politically unstable region, and have a major impact on historical research and student training.

Funding: SSHRC Partnership Grant to the McGill Indian Ocean World Center.