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Rivers, marshes & farmlands

Research perspectives on the ecological history of Hungary through examples of Bodrogköz (Ne-Hungary)

Author: Balázs Borsos

In the last millennium one of the most important changes in the natural environment of the Great Hungarian Plain was the process of river regulation. Although the Plain was formed by the alluvial deposits of two main rivers, the Danube and the Tisza, the former runs at the edge of the lowland, while the latter flows right through the middle of it. Consequently, the regulation of the Tisza and its tributaries had a much more widespread environmental impact. The process deserves a closer look from the point of view of historical ecology/environmental history. Regulation works initiated a dramatic change in the adaptation strategies of people living along the rivers.

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Borrowing concepts, principles and categories of other disciplines unavoidably raise problems of their correct use in the host discipline. In this article, the author intends to analyze the use of ecological categories and concepts in ecological anthropology. First the definition of ecology and its related and sub-disciplines in natural sciences are investigated. The main body of the article deals with some basic ecological categories, such as ecosystem, population and niche, comparing the potentials of using their concepts both in ecology and anthropology, relying on the works and ideas of different anthropologists who introduced them in their analyses and explanations about the character of specific cultures (e. g. Barth, Rappaport, Singh et al.). Finally, the author comes to the conclusion that the theoretical definitions of all these categories are wide enough to use them in ecological anthropology as well, but the practice of ecology interprets them in a narrower sense and the different levels of ecological investigation are based on this narrow sense. The summary of the article claims that there are several ways of applying ecological methods in human sciences, but they will give way either to disciplines yet to be developed or to a scientific practice not without contradictions.

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First the author summarizes the attempts of defining the regions of Hungarian folk culture and he concludes that the next step in this kind of investigation must be a certain definition based on as many cultural elements as possible. He intends to do it by using the database of the Atlas of Hungarian Folk Culture and computer methods. He investigates the opportunity and the problems of the transformation of the data of the Atlas into a computer database, he presents the problems to be solved and some possible solutions. He concludes that for various reasons only a limited number of the cultural phenomena mapped in the atlas are suitable for computer analysis. He summarizes the methodological background of the correlation and cluster analysis to be used. He emphasizes that due to the special character of mapping the inconsistencies and the mixing of different points of view in the Atlas, and to the character of the computer analysis that is mechanical and not elaborate enough, this kind of definition of the cultural re-gions of the Hungarian-speaking areas cannot replace the previous definition of regions but it can offer a good frame of reference to define the regions more precisely.

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An attempt is made to summarize the emergence and evolution of a sub-territory in anthropology, namely ecological anthropology. First the name of this discipline is considered, that deals with the interrelationship of culture and nature from cultural ecology to human ecology concluding to ecological anthropology. Here the word ecology appears in an attributive compound suggesting that it is a field of anthropology using ecological concepts as well. The second part of the article provides a brief history of the discipline from the beginnings (determinism, possibilism) through the emergence of the cultural ecology theory by Julian H. Steward and the work of neo-evolutionists (White, Sahlins, Harris), to the most ‘ecological’ investigations of the neo-functionalists (Vayda, Rappaport, Moran) who introduced the use of the category ecosystem in their research. The latter concept is analysed a bit more in details, mainly with the work of Roy Rappaport in the focus. The third part presents the different approaches of the last 30 years, ranging from environmental history up to radical ecology. It emphasizes the importance of ethno-science and cognitive anthropology, which appear in ecological anthropology in the fifties (Conklin) and flourish up today. Finally the process of ‘sacralisation’ of the research in ecological anthropology is outlined, namely the emergence of spiritual ecology and the investigation of traditional ecological knowledge which can help in resources management of the modern world just as well.

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One of the main aims of European ethnology in the second half of the 20th century was to create the ethnographical atlases of various nations in Europe. The basic purpose of the cartographical elaboration of the regional variants of certain cultural elements of the given nation in a certain system and that of collecting them into atlases was to create a database on which investigations could be carried out to define the territorial structure of the given folk culture. The easiest way to define this territorial pattern is the computer elaboration of the database, which means the digitalization and the cluster analysis of the data made by computer. On the methods and on the possibilities of the computer elaboration of the Atlas of Hungarian Folk Culture (AHFC) a paper was held by the author at the 11th Conference of the SIEF’s International European Network (Workgroup) on Ethnocartography in Poland (Borsos 2000). At the 12th conference in Slovakia the author talked about the first results of the cluster-analysis (Borsos 2000/2001).In the last decade the computer programs for the digital version of the AHFC have been developed and the digital version has been extended with supplementary maps as well. As in the digital version we can find not simply scanned pictures of the original sheets but the basic structure of the atlas (base-map, collecting points) is also available, it is not only possible but fairly easy to add new (virtual) sheets to the atlas. So the Atlas has been supplemented with maps elaborating some of the statistical data (demographic and agricultural) of the period between 1900–1910, which is the time interval represented by the cultural data of the atlas. This virtual 10th volume of the atlas contains ‘sheets’ about important information on the cultural picture of the settlements shown and of their cultural environment. The new volume can also help to draw a more accurate map about cultural regions. Another type of supplementary maps can be seen in the virtual 11th volume showing the regional distribution of the territory inhabited by Hungarians regarding cultural and non-cultural aspects. The last section of the distributional maps shows the regional structure of the Hungarian folk culture based on the computer elaborated data of the first 9 volumes, as well as the synthetic regional structure based on the comparison of the computer-drawn picture with three other sources: the statistical investigations of the database, the maps of the two virtual volumes and the scientific literature.

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