Darwin-L Message Log 1:220 (September 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.

<1:220>From mayerg@cs.uwp.edu  Mon Sep 27 09:53:40 1993

Date: Mon, 27 Sep 1993 09:28:34 -0500 (CDT)
From: Gregory Mayer <mayerg@cs.uwp.edu>
Subject: Re: "Witness" and "testimony" in the historical sciences
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

	Bob O'Hara has asked for information on the notion of objects as
"witnesses".  I have an example which is at least tangentially related:
the use of "witness trees".  The old Northwest Territories of the United
States were mapped and surveyed using the township and range system which
required a surveyed territory to be divided into a grid 1 mile on a side.
To mark the corners of these grids, surveyors recorded the name and
diameter of the tree nearest to the corner, along with its distance and
bearing from the corner.  Such trees were called "witness" or "bearing"
trees.  Their original usage was thus to serve as markers for the mapping
system.  These trees, or at least the records of them, along with other
notes made by the surveyors, were later used in historical reconstruction
of the vegetation at the time of European settlement.  The most ambitious
map I have seen that used the "witness tree" method of reconstruction is
"Original Vegetation Cover of Wisconsin" by Robert Finley, 1976, at a
scale of 1:500,000 published by the North Central Forest Experiment
Station, U.S.D.A., St. Paul, Minnesota.  Such maps are, of course, very
valuable for studying the history of post-settlement vegetation and land
use changes, as well as being an "endline" for studies of Quaternary
vegetation change based on paleontological and archaeological records.

Gregory C. Mayer

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