My research, focusing primarily on South Asia and, to a lesser extent, Southeast Asia, the Pacific and the Southwestern United States, addresses a number of related issues including: the formation and transformation of anthropogenic landscapes; the causes and consequences of agricultural change; colonialism and imperialism; and the interplay between political power, economic organization, and social strategies of production and exchange. Most recently, I have begun working on issues related the causes and consequences of the expansion of rice agriculture and the development of elite cuisines in southern India. I also work in the area of environmental history considering such issues as the validity of the so-called “colonial ecological watershed” and investigating the ways in which narratives about the past structure research and imagination in history, the sciences, and in environmental activism. Most recently, I have begun working on historical understandings of biodiversity and the relationships between human land use and land cover change.
Methodologically, my research integrates environmental sciences, archaeology, and history. My overall research strategy is to explore multiple independent lines of evidence in order to realistically address both the possibilities and limits of any one form of analysis. Given my interest in regional dynamics, both ecological and sociopolitical, in most of my research projects I have combined analysis of plant microfossils and sediments, chemical and isotopic analysis, qualitative and quantitative analysis of texts, and close historical and archaeological research (regional survey, excavation, and artifact analysis). My work is thus a form of historical political ecology which makes use of methods and perspectives from anthropology, archaeology, history, geography, and other fields. More recently, I have expanded my training in geology and geochemistry, with a focus on stable isotope ecology in order to more closely track changes in landscapes, soils, and human and animal bodies. Through involvement with PAGES (past global changes), I am working with other scholars to develop methods for documenting and understanding the human role in worldwide land cover changes over the last 6,000 years.