Trees Are Shape Shifters


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How Cultivation, Climate Change, and Disaster Create Landscapes

Andrew S. Mathews

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An exploration of the anthropogenic landscapes of Lucca, Italy, and how its people understand social and environmental change through cultivation

In Italy and around the Mediterranean, almost every stone, every tree, and every hillside show traces of human activities. Situating climate change within the context of the Anthropocene, Andrew Mathews investigates how people in Lucca, Italy, make sense of social and environmental change by caring for the morphologies of trees and landscapes. He analyzes how people encounter climate change, not by thinking and talking about climate, but by caring for the environments around them. Maintaining landscape stability by caring for the forms of trees, rivers, and hillsides is a way that people link their experiences to the past and to larger scale political questions. The human-transformed landscapes of Italy are a harbinger of the experiences that all of us are likely to face, and addressing these disasters will call upon all of us to think about the human and natural histories of the landscapes we live in.

Andrew S. Mathews is associate professor of anthropology at the University of California Santa Cruz.

“Andrew Mathews tells an important story, tracing the trajectory of a human-managed landscape across recent centuries into our Anthropocene era of climate change. But he also shows us the role of story-telling and of other ways of learning, knowing, and communicating, offering new directions for action at this time of pressing challenges.”—Ben Orlove, author of Lines in the Water: Nature and Culture at Lake Titicaca

Trees are Shape Shifters is original and rich, a fertile blending of local, place-based research with considerations of the global issue of climate change: the planet through the Tuscan landscape”—Marco Armiero, President of the European Society for Environmental History

"A beautiful story of how peasants’ care and practices held Italian hillsides together, how abandonment makes them literally fall apart, and how history can be traced through a tree stump."—Marianne Elisabeth Lien, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo
ISBN: 9780300260373
Publication Date: October 25, 2022
320 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
70 b/w illus.
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