Laborscapes and Archaeologies of Sustainability

Early Globalization and Commercial Farming in the San Pasquale Valley, Calabria, Italy from AD 1800–2018

  • Meredith S. Chesson University of Notre Dame
  • Isaac I.T. Ullah San Diego State University
  • Nicholas Ames University of Notre Dame
  • Sarah Benchekroun San Diego State University
  • Hamish Forbes University of Nottingham
  • Yesenia Garcia San Diego State University
  • Giovanni Iiriti Independent Scholar
  • Paula K. Lazrus Institute for Core Studies
  • John Robb University of Cambridge
  • Maria Olimpia Squillaci Smithsonian Institute for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
  • Nicholas P.S. Wolff Independent Scholar
Keywords: communities of practice, historical archaeology, Italy, laborscape, sustainability, technology


Archaeological research on sustainability enjoys an increasingly high profile in the discipline, with scholars employing a range of methodological and theoretical platforms. We argue that the most successful forays of applied archaeological research into sustainability encompass three major realms: the social foundations and local histories of any human community, the economic resources and practices to support that community, and the environmental and geological couplings existing therein. This study explores dynamic relationships between these three spheres by discussing how nineteenth- and twentieth-century farmers, land managers, and landowners, along with their families, created and maintained a vibrant community, founded for the commercial production of bergamot, mulberries, olives, grapes, and a wide variety of fruits, nuts, vegetables, and cereal crops in the San Pasquale Valley (SPQV), Calabria, Italy. Our theoretical approach combines Lave and Wenger's (1991) community of practice approach with Scarborough's (2009) model of labor- and techno-tasking strategies to document laborscapes through time, using architectural documentation, oral histories, documentary evidence, oral histories, ethnographic interviews, and climate modeling. We demonstrate the interpretive power of incorporating cultural foundations into environmental and economic models to produce more comprehensive understandings of how people succeed and fail to sustain livelihoods and communities. We argue that rhythms and nuances of linkages between the SPQV environment, economy, and social worlds require a more flexible conceptualization of sustainability to encompass the variety of solutions developed by current SPQV community members to craft sustainable economic and social futures for themselves.

Author Biographies

Meredith S. Chesson, University of Notre Dame

Meredith S. Chesson is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. Her primary research interests focus on daily life and personhood in the past and present.

Isaac I.T. Ullah, San Diego State University

Isaac I. T. Ullah is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at San Diego State University. His primary research interests center on computational archaeology, landscapes, and land-use in the Mediterranean region.

Nicholas Ames, University of Notre Dame

Nicholas Ames, MA, is a PhD candidate in Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. His research focuses on migration and personhood in transatlantic communities, particularly between Ireland and America.

Sarah Benchekroun, San Diego State University

Sarah Benchekroun is an MA Student in Anthropology, San Diego State University. Her research interests focus on trade between the Far East and the Iberian Peninsula from Late Antiquity through the modern era.

Hamish Forbes, University of Nottingham

Hamish Forbes is Emeritus Professor of Classics and Archaeology, University of Nottingham. His research combines ethnographic and archaeological methodologies to elucidate lifeways in rural, Mediterranean agricultural communities.

Yesenia Garcia, San Diego State University

Yesenia Garcia is an MA student in Anthropology at San Diego State University. Her research interests are computational archaeology and erosion modeling of prehistoric sites in the northern Channel Islands, California.

Giovanni Iiriti, Independent Scholar

Giovanni Iiriti is Emeritus Professor of Foreign Language and Literature, with a degree from the University of Messina in Education. He resides in Bova Marina, Italy. Of his many intellectual passions, the promotion of research into the past, present, and future of life in Bova and Bova Marina (RC) and the Greco dialect of his home is paramount.

Paula K. Lazrus, Institute for Core Studies

Paula Kay Lazrus is Associate Professor, Institute for Core Studies, St John’s University. Her primary research interests focus on different forms of land-use across periods, and the protection of antiquities.

John Robb, University of Cambridge

John Robb is Professor of Archaeology at Cambridge University. He has researched the prehistory and history of southern Calabria for 20 years, with interests in the landscape experience of social processes.

Maria Olimpia Squillaci, Smithsonian Institute for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Maria Olimpia Squillaci completed her PhD in Modern and Medieval Languages at the University of Cambridge. She is a Fellow at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Her research interests focus on minoritized languages and communities.

Nicholas P.S. Wolff, Independent Scholar

Nicholas P.S. Wolff earned his Archaeology PhD from Boston University and is an Independent Scholar residing in Vermont. His research interests include micromorphology and Italian archaeology.


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How to Cite
Chesson, M. S., Ullah, I. I., Ames, N., Benchekroun, S., Forbes, H., Garcia, Y., Iiriti, G., Lazrus, P. K., Robb, J., Squillaci, M. O., & Wolff, N. P. (2019). Laborscapes and Archaeologies of Sustainability. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, 32(1), 32-62.