Natures Past: Archival Evidence of Environmental and Climate Change (Exhibit)

This exhibit was co-curated by Liza Piper and Karen Simonson, with support from theProvincial Archives of Alberta and NiCHE. It was on display at the Provincial Archives of Alberta in Edmonton from September through December 2010.

Driving the highways in Alberta, you descend into a valley. It may have forested slopes, a house or two, and some small creeks or ponds. The slope has drawn you down to the valley floor, where a river once ran. If you look along the valley, you can imagine the waters that flowed through it – waters that ran up against the banks you just descended. Evidence of a former landscape surrounds you. This is just one instance of how the physical environment preserves traces of its own past.

Our human relationship to the natural world has a past that is also preserved on the land. It can be seen in the cairns and cliff at Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump, for instance. Or, where farmers’ fields have replaced former grasslands. It is even apparent in the slag heaps remaining at the sites of old mining communities.

This shared past can also be found preserved in archives. Diaries, letters, reports, ledgers, photographs and films might include direct or indirect evidence of past environments since contact between Europeans and Aboriginals. These records can reveal the history of our changing knowledge and perceptions of the natural world, as well as the history of our social, cultural and material relationships with nature.

In this exhibit, these kinds of evidence demonstrate how we can explore natures past – and our relationships to them – by using materials preserved in the Provincial Archives of Alberta. We invite you to explore the panels of the exhibit, which have been made available online on this page.

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