Historical Ecology Mapping in Athens, GA

It’s my second week back in school and my second semester working on the Historical Ecology Mapping Project (lovingly referred to as HEMP), a research endeavor that I’ve undertaken with Professor Eric MacDonald at The University of Georgia in the College of Environment + Design. So far this semester we’ve commandeered a tiny room in the basement of Denmark Hall; it has no windows, but it does have a chalk board, a desk, and an old pile of t-squares stacked in one corner. With a measure of certainty I’ll posit that other places of cultural progress have been less richly endowed, though perhaps not many.

So what are we doing here? It’s a little complicated, but basically we’re trying to draw a map. From our hideaway in downtown Athens we’re mapping two of the city’s watersheds, Tanyard Creek and Lilly Branch, as they would have existed in 1785, the year UGA was chartered. Granted, no existing maps of Athens predate 1791.

We’re reaching beyond existing documentation because we want to know what effects historic environmental patterns have had on our area of study. It’s our feeling that understanding the history of our community can help us better manage its ecologies and their functions over time. In keeping with this, HEMP’s mission statement reads:

The Japanese word kintsukuroi describes a broken object being made whole again after its fractures are fused with gold. This joinery acknowledges the object’s history and reveals beauty in the processes of upset and mending. In the spirit of kintsukuroi, the Historical Ecology Mapping Project seeks to promote an understanding of human impact on the environment by researching and mapping historic land use and ecologies within Athens-Clarke County, Georgia in order to inform creative site management and restoration.

HEMP has a couple of fascinating predecessors, The Mannahatta Project (now Mannahatta 2409 and Welikia) and the Napa Valley Historical Ecology Atlas. These resources have given us a great deal of inspiration, and are encouraging works to keep nearby for the heavy moments. The “How do I do what?” moments.

We’re still sort of figuring it out, of course. Eric and I developed the idea for HEMP over the summer and began working on it last semester with the help of some really fabulous fellow students. We’re on our own for Spring 2015, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the groundwork that my colleagues helped us lay. We’ve got a lot to do. In the meantime, this space will be dedicated to updates on the project’s progress, goals, and the fun things we find. I’m looking forward to sharing all of it.

With much more to come,

Annette Griffin, Master of Landscape Architecture candidate at The University of Georgia, 2016

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