Social Science Baha
Official

Landscape and Life History in the Himalaya

11 January, 2010


David Zurick
on
Landscape and Life History in the Himalaya

The lecture examines landscape transformation and culture change in the Kathmandu Valley and Bhutan by assessing land-use/land-cover change within a timeline of historical landscape photographs and remote sensing imagery, and links this assessment to societal changes captured in life histories of local villagers.

The photographic record of the 100-year-old archive of the Royal Court Photographer of Nepal, as well as the photo archive of geographer P.P. Karan, are used as baseline visual documents and used in conjunction with repeat photographs made from the exact vantage points used in the historical photographs for purposes of direct visual comparison. The objective of the repeat photography is to gain a visual record of the landscape spanning a timeline of a century. The old and new photography sets are aligned with spatial digital data gained from aerial photography and remote sensing imagery in order to further analyse geographical patterns of environmental change.

The digital data timeline covers a half-century, and empirically corroborates the visual assessments contained in the repeat photography exercise. The paired photo sets serve as methodological prompts for ethnographic study. The ethnographic work, based on interviews with villagers using the photo timeline for reference, was geared to obtain life histories that tie cultural circumstances to landscape change. The overall objective of the talk is to conceptually link an empirically-informed analysis of a century of landscape change to an inter-generational narrative of cultural change.

The lecture seeks to contribute to our knowledge about societal and environment change in the Himalaya as it assesses the human driving forces behind local landscape change. It presents a unique approach to mountain geography by integrating visual information with empirical assessments, and by connecting both to cultural concerns captured in the life history analysis. In so doing, it offers a humanistic as well as social scientific perspective on environmental change. The research methodology integrates qualitative and empirical data, and links both to geo-technology applications. It thus provides a synthesis of empirical, humanistic, and technology components with a unified conceptual framework.

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David Zurick is the Foundation Professor of Geography at Eastern Kentucky University and University of Kentucky, and has conducted research in Nepal and the wider Himalaya region since 1980. He is the author of numerous books and scholarly articles, including Himalaya: Life on the Edge of the World, which won a 2000 CHOICE Award (USA), and Illustrated Atlas of the Himalaya, winner of the 2006 National Outdoor Book Award (USA). Prof Zurick is a Fellow of the Explorers Club, and the recipient of the 2009 Chomolungma/Everest/Sagarmatha Career Award from the Association of American Geographers.