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Javier Francisco

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Project: "Bio-Cultural Diversity in Decline: Reassessing European Rule and Expansion in the Americas"

Scientists and scholars across the disciplines are increasingly interested in understanding and explaining the loss of biological and cultural (that is to say, bio-cultural) diversity which we are currently witnessing around the world. In order to do so, they have to look back and investigate when this accelerated global transformation and decline started, what contributing factors were the main drivers and how these processes developed over the centuries. This research project takes up ongoing debates and asks how we have to reassess European imperial rule in order to better understand these processes that accelerated 500 years ago – at the dawn of European global expansion. Thus, this project will conduct a comparative large-scale investigation including all European empires in North and South America from 1492 to 1867.

The aim of the project is to design a new methodological framework which reassesses spatial-temporal concepts (such as frontiers) and categories (such as colony-types) of imperial rule in order to define alternative units that are more suitable to analyze bio-cultural traits. Additionally, this project will develop and test a new concept distinguishing between territorial and operative expansion and rule in order to further overcome state-centered investigations. In a next step, a comprehensive historical database will be compiled. This database will include small-scale territories, identified in the previous step, as well as so-called drivers of bio-cultural transformations. These drivers describe factors that likely contributed to the bio-cultural reconfiguration of the socio-ecological landscape. Herein, one can distinguish between general drivers such as climate zones which apply to all territories and specific drivers, e.g. missions or slaving, which were only present in selected territories for a specific period. Once the territories are analyzed according to the prevalence of the drivers a comprehensive evaluation can be conducted by looking for correlations. Thus, not only can we reveal relevant combinations of drivers which triggered transformative synergies but also the strengths of the correlations. These results will enable us to reassess the relevance of certain historical developments for the bio-cultural landscape in colonial America.

Additionally, this project will offer new spatial-temporal categories (such as colony-types) which might prove more useful to investigate further cultural traits such as religious affiliations or gender relations. Ideally, this design and its usefulness for imperial history will be discussed with fellow colleagues working on other world regions and centuries such as Ancient Rome, China or the Caliphate-Emirate. Finally, an interdisciplinary analysis will be conducted matching the herein retrieved results and their visualization (via GIS tools) with historical modelling of ecologists and linguists. In doing so, the accuracy of the databases and the assumptions of the historical, ecological and linguistic models will be reaffirmed or questioned – thus, encouraging follow-up cooperation and joint investigations.