In relation to the above issues connected to the changing human condition within nature, ‘Halesworth’ takes a view that the prosperity of the town ebbed and flowed when it did because of its topographic history and who decided to live there. This views history as an unbroken tradition carried forward by a succession of people building on the contributions of previous generations. On the other hand, there was also a coming together of people in the late medieval period, which generated a new sense of community, based on a novel understanding of the needs they shared and increased knowledge of the available means for satisfying them. This perspective views history as a process of ecological transformation.

Both propositions highlight the need to define a subject that integrates the march of humanity with occasional changes in environmental awareness, to explain how culture has come to its present state from within a local ecological infrastructure. Halesworth, and hundreds of towns like it, are ‘images’ of commercial communities that help towards this understanding. The helpful characteristics are:

  • the communities are small enough to function as historical models with many different levels of understanding;
  • and they exemplify many different types of disruptive events, which differ in size, chronological breadth and capacity to produce long-lasting effects.

In both respects, these small town models have a bearing on the need to explain history as a blend of stable structures and discontinuities.

The main task of the ‘old history’ is one of tracing a line of tradition to discover how continuities are maintained between generations, and how a single historical pattern is formed and preserved. The task of the new history of cultural ecology is to define transformations that serve as new foundations or the rebuilding of old ones in relation to the availability of natural resources. The historical continuities are the momentum of the retail trade and population growth. The discontinuities are changes in the perception and use of natural resources (exploiting resources) and changing attitudes to charity (conserving resources). This holistic knowledge framework is set out as a mind map in Fig 1.2.

Figure 1.2 A map of cultural ecology defined by its general concepts and levels

In summary, ‘Halesworth’ deals with historical causality within the town as a long-established retail community, which in the mid 18th century became linked with national discontinuities in the utilisation and scientific study of natural resources. The account is built upon two top-level concepts of ‘exploiting resources’ and ‘conserving resources’. Exploiting resources encapsulates ideas about human production, and ‘conserving resources’ deals with ideas about nature’s production’ in relation to people being a part of local and global ecosystems. Halesworth’s conservation culture began to merge with, and influence, the long-established retail culture, which had been based on the relentless exploitation of natural resources. At any one time culture is the outcome of the interactions between the two activities, and at the present time cultural ecology is having something of an upper hand in the way Halesworthians perceive their town and its future. This conceptual framework of ‘Halesworth’ is presented in Fig 1.3. The second level concepts in this mind map define its chapters.

Figure 1.3 ‘Halesworth’ topic map