Dealing with long-term environmental development, our research field faces regularly the challenge to evaluate the present-day conditions against a historical background. Often, the historical conditions are seen as pristine and unaffected by human perturbations, even though there exist many examples that also earlier cultures contributed heavily to the degradation of ecosystems and the environment. A well-known example is certainly the history of the Easter Islands, but there are also many examples in “our backyard”, as for instance the history of mining activities in the Bergslagen region, with tremendous environmental impact.
For the two decades of my own professional career within research and education, I may not yet be able to draw any firm conclusions whether things were better in the past. There was certainly less administration and reporting, but on the other hand, important tools such as the World Wide Web or E-mail systems were not yet available (by the way, never tell your students that you remember the time before E-mails and Cambro – they immediately think you are a dinosaur).
However, one research activity is very well suited for comparisons with the past. No matter what we are dealing with as environmental scientists, at some point we need to collect samples to describe and understand the environment or to test our hypotheses. How did early scientists carry out field work? One of the pioneers of Swedish sediment research was Gerard de Geer, and there exists a wonderful clip about field work from the 1930.
So, please enjoy below the insights in terms of sampling equipment and clothing (personally I appreciate the elegant headgear)! But, frankly, when it comes to data analysis, please ask yourself whether “det var verkligen bättre förr”!