Ruben Post (University of St. Andrews)

13 October – 4PM UK

Pierre-Jacques Antoine Volaire, “Burning Palace in Rome”

Ancient Graeco-Roman History and the Contemporary Climate Crisis: Rhetoric, Pedagogy, and Relevance

Concerns about contemporary climate change have propelled climate history to prominence in recent decades. This new interest in how climatic fluctuations impacted past human societies is driven to a certain extent by a desire to establish a historical baseline against which to compare current developments, but even more so by deep-seated anxieties about the fate of contemporary societies. Thus, in recent decades the public has taken a particular interest in narratives of pre-modern societal collapse in the face of environmental crisis and how we can learn from those examples, the most prominent from the classical world being the Roman Empire. This paper will examine the role that the climate history of the ancient Graeco-Roman world can play in addressing the contemporary climate crisis, covering topics including environmental determinism, narratives of collapse, and the relationship between individual agency and societal resilience. At base, it will address how studying the climate history of the deep past can motivate students to move beyond viewing themselves as passive subjects of environmental change to consider how they might contribute to changing social, economic, and political institutions in order to mitigate ecological problems. This will be discussed with particular reference to the author’s development with a colleague of a secondary school curriculum discussing environmental and societal change in the ancient Graeco-Roman world.