This book is published on the occasion of the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the Holland Society of Arts and Sciences. The founders of our Institution were–as could be expected in the middle of the 18th century–deeply convinced that science, and perhaps also to some extent the arts, should play a significant role in the prosperous development of the town of Haarlem and its surroundings in Holland. Several comparable 'Learned Societies' already existed in Europe and America, but our Society was the first to be established in the Netherlands.
Since the foundation of the Holland Society the enlightened optimism about the impact of scientific work has changed to a more prudent vision. Nevertheless, we undertook this project following the traditional aim of our Institution to advance science for the benefit of society, by selecting as its subject the interaction between humanity and the biosphere. This subject is of course not new. Through the last decades many different and richly faceted studies have been undertaken and articles and books that shed new light on this interaction are published almost daily. However, many questions remain unanswered and it seems that the number of issues and questions increases rather than diminishes.
It is obviously beyond the scope of one limited project–limited in time, manpower and budget–to give satisfactory answers to many of these questions. But we think that this book will give a new and deeper understanding by means of the approach taken and the inclusion of recent and innovative points of view. As the title of the book suggests, the authors have made extensive use of maps, both historical and contemporary, while exploring less known or unknown territory. These maps and many local and regional narratives do not only illustrate this study, they also facilitate our view of the complex interaction between humans and the environment.
In this book sustainable development is not dealt with as a rather static desirable track between the present and the future, but as part of a long-term, dynamic and evolutionary process of the co-existence of humanity and its environment that started many millennia ago. A fundamental opinion of the authors is that we need a thorough understanding of the past in order to be able to say something sensible about the future. And even then we will have to be prepared to encounter surprises and disappointments, as we did in the past. Another important element of the book is that we have tried, contrary to most studies on humans and the biosphere, to approach the subject not only from a natural science angle, but also integrate views from the historical and social sciences. The attempt to present a truly interdisciplinary synthesis of many different points of view