A Waterloo historian is leading a team of researchers to unearth the remains of a lost medieval village in the south of England, hoping to find lessons about climate change.

Villagers who lived near Herstmonceux, East Sussex abandoned their community 600 years ago when coastal floods, increased rainfall, and changing temperatures threatened their livelihood. Now, Steven Bednarski, a professor in the Department of History, is working with a team of historians, archaeologists and paleontologists to unearth the past.

Zack McDonald and Andrew Moore

Zack McDonald and Andrew Moore are University of Waterloo students working on the Herstmonceux Project in the south of England.

Putting a human face on climate change

“Climate change is a pressing global concern. Governments, researchers, and the public benefit from a more sophisticated appreciation of historical climate,” says Bednarski. “By contrasting a modern problem against an historical one, we see more readily how climate affects people.”

Stephen Bednarski

Steven Bednarski, professor, Department of History

As a co-lead on the Herstmonceux Project, Bednarski hopes to offer alternative perspectives on our current climate crisis by revealing how people lived and left the pre-modern settlement of 1250-1440. Archaeological artifacts unearthed at Herstmonceaux will seed Canada’s first museum collection on medieval culture and environment, housed at St. Jerome’s.University, which is affiliated with the University of Waterloo.

“History demonstrates how nature plays an often dominant role in shaping everything from culture to politics and technological development,” says Bednarksi.

Climate causes deep changes to culture

The project offers a rare humanities-based contribution to the growing discourse on global climate change, he adds. “While scientists can study climate change as an isolated and measurable phenomenon, a humanities approach underscores how nature, people, and culture are inextricably linked. To halt potentially harmful interactions with nature requires deep changes to culture and lifestyle.”

A recent Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant led by Bednarski  and his collaborator, Scott McLean, a history professor  at the Bader International Study Centre, Herstmonceux, established a formal partnership between the University of Waterloo, St. Jerome’s University, the Bader International Study Centre, and Queen’s University. The partners share expertise, resources, and students. They provide training in archives, archaeology, conservation, and environment through an international setting.

International Education Week at Waterloo

Students who collaborate on the project become adaptive and competitive on the world stage while finding ways to contribute to the discourse of climate. This week is International Education Week at the University of Waterloo. Find out more about events happening on campus and how you can participate.