Science & Research

Endowed Professorship of Forest History

Prof. Uwe Eduard Schmidt is holder of the endowed professsorship of forest history at Freiburg University. The Eva Mayr-Stihl Foundation was one of its initiators and has supported it financially for 10 years. Following expiry of the 10 years, the post became a tenured professorship with public funding. What is meant by “Forest History”? Forest history observes the development of the forest and its natural influencing factors such as climate or location without human intervention.

Forest history depicts the relationship between the forest and man. Forest history examines how man has affected the forest and how he has formed or cultivated it. Prof. Schmidt summarizes: "If one wants to learn about society today, one should go into the woods. Students first learn the guiding principle of forest history teaching:  The forest can be likened to a hiker through time – it stems from the past and grows into the future. We accompany it for only a short while in our lifetime, ask it about its origin and point the way into the future." One can use the experience gained for future silviculture, learn from the mistakes made in the past and hope to find the right solutions. After all, the decisions made by man today, influence the forest for the next few centuries. "Forest history has huge practical relevance. We do not stumble about in history, but try to find specific information with relevance for the future", explains Schmidt. The forest fulfils many different functions, which change along with society’s requirements. Today, they are primarily use of wood as a material and a source of energy, its recreational function, its protective function for the soil, water and air as well as its ecological function for the preservation of biodiversity. Schmidt sees great challenges for the future: "The forest suffers from climate change. With its present tree species it is not optimally equipped for the projected increase in temperature. The historical analysis shows that the forest needs much longer periods to adapt to changing climatic conditions. How should we handle the situation? That is not easy to answer. The question is whether one can help the forest’s process of adaptation by planting other tree species."

Interview Schmidt