Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Mountain Pastoralism 1500-2000: An Introduction

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Mountain Pastoralism 1500-2000: An Introduction

Article excerpt

Abstract

This special issue of Nomadic Peoples presents a collection of articles that give an idea of the continuities and changes of pastoralism in upland areas during the past five centuries. They are the result of a lengthy project on 'Mountain Pastoralism and Modernity' organized by historians from different continents. The following introduction aims to trace the framework of that enterprise. It takes up a few key concepts: mountain pastoralism, history, verticality, intensification and mobility. It then describes the project, outlines the current state of research in the continents concerned, and points to some results and prospects.

Keywords: pastoralism, mountain areas, history, intensification, modernity

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Mountain pastoralism has seldom been approached from an intercontinental comparative perspective, and even more rarely so with a focus on historical development. In this special issue of Nomadic Peoples, we present a collection of articles which, taken together, can give an idea of the continuities and changes in upland environments during the past five centuries. They are the result of a project on 'Mountain Pastoralism and Modernity' organized by historians from different continents. The project involved quite a few scholars and, in 2008 and 2009, brought most of them together in a cycle of conferences in Latin America, Asia, and Europe. The following introduction aims to trace the framework of that enterprise. We first take up a few key concepts: mountain pastoralism, history, verticality, intensification and mobility. We then describe the project, outline the current state of research in the continents concerned, and point to some results and prospects.

Mountain Pastoralism

In the important work The World of Pastoralism: Herding Systems in Comparative Perspective, Galaty and Johnson (1990) distinguish several forms of pastoralism, according to environmental differences: plains, desert and tundra, mountain. They explain that: 'Pastoralism in mountain environments is characterized by a vertical stratification of resources by altitude. This permits herders to move animals from lowland cool-season to highland warm-season pastures in order to escape the extremes of temperature and precipitation that otherwise might harm their flocks. Most animal-keeping groups in mountain environments also engage in agriculture. These activities are mutually supportive. Simultaneous engagement in both agricultural and pastoral activities is a time-honored device that reduces risk and increases the production from otherwise limited habitats' (1990: 299).

In their characterization of mountain pastoralism, Galaty and Johnson also point to its historical contexts and connections. Traditionally, pastoral movements were often linked to trade activities between different zones of upland regions, and between upland and lowland regions. Much of the mountain surplus production was marketed in the cities of adjoining lowland zones. Population growth and agricultural intensification in the lowlands often reduced the grazing grounds that were utilized seasonally by mountain pastoralists. This could force them to intensify animal production in the highlands where environmental conditions made intensification more difficult and time-consuming in general terms (1990: 299-300).

Mountain areas cover more than one fifth of the world's terrestrial surface, and 'mountain pastoralism' is a well-established category in pastoral studies, used and referred to by many scholars. For instance, thirty years ago, Goldschmidt considered the distinction between pastoralism in flat lands and mountain areas to be a central distinction in his 'general model for pastoral social systems'. Later Scholz, in his survey of pastoral nomadism in the Eurasian and African drylands, marked the spatial distribution of vertically (versus horizontally) migrating livestock-keepers, and discussed the domestication and keeping of yaks in Central Asia. …

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