Mats Widgren

Mats Widgren

Professor emeritus

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Works at Department of Human Geography
Telephone 08-16 48 52
Visiting address Svante Arrhenius väg 8
Room X 401
Postal address Kulturgeografiska institutionen 106 91 Stockholm

About me

魏麥思 (Chinese name)




Mapping global agricultural history -  Session at AAAS 2011:  Global Agricultural History: Mapping the Past for Modeling the Future

How the East was won: Towards an environmental history of the Eurasian steppe

Exploring precolonial agriculture and intensification: the case of Bokoni, South Africa (Swedish Research Links, Univ of Pretoria)

REAL – Resilience in East African Landscapes

People, Land and Time in Africa 



Forgotten World 2015




A selection from Stockholm University publication database
  • 2020. Xueqiong Wei (et al.). Earth System Science Data Discussions, 1-32

    High-resolution historical land cover datasets are essential not only for simulations of climate and environmental dynamics, but also for projections of future land use, food security, climate and biodiversity. However, widely used global datasets are developed for continental-to-global scale analysis and simulations and the accuracy of global datasets depends on the verification of more regional reconstruction results. In this study, based on the collected statistics of cropland area of each administrative unit (Parish/ Municipality/ County/ Province) in Scandinavia from 1690 to 2015, the cropland area at the administrative unit level was allocated into 30-arc second grid cells. The results indicated that the cropland area increased from 1.81 million ha in 1690 to 7.10 million ha in 1950, then decreased to 6.02 million ha in 2015. Before 1810, cropland cover expanded in southern Scandinavia and remained stable in northern. From 1810 to 1910, northern Scandinavia experienced slight expansion and the cropland area increased rapidly in the southern part of the study area. Then, cropland area changed gently. After 1950, cropland area began to decrease in most regions, especially in the east of Scandinavia. When comparing HYDE3.2 with this study, differences in cropland distribution over the past 300 years are mainly observed in regions which were highly cultivated. Our dataset can be used by future environment and climate models in Scandinavia. The dataset can be downloaded from (Wei et al., 2020).

  • 2020. Mats Widgren. Making the Profane Sacred in the Viking Age
  • 2019. Mats Widgren. Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademiens årsbok, 99-128
  • 2018. Mats Widgren. Plants and People in the African Past, 303-327

    Recent global historical cropland modelling grossly underestimates the pre-colonial development of agriculture in the Americas and many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Such models are usually developed by back casting from recent land cover, combined with environmentally deterministic algorithms. Historical geographers have been slow in responding to a new demand for a global synthesis. In this paper, a preliminary map of African agricultural systems dating to AD 1800 is presented. It forms a component of the project Mapping Global Agriculture and is based on the existing historical literature, observations by early travelers, archaeology and archaeobotany. It should be emphasized that the generated map should be considered preliminary.

  • 2018. Mats Widgren.

    Maps of past agricultural systems suggest two rapid changes: around 1500 CE, as European colonization led to demographic and agricultural collapse in South America, 1870 to 1920 CE, as industrialization and steam transport resulted in a global division of labor.

  • 2018. Rob Marchant (et al.). Earth-Science Reviews 178, 322-378

    East African landscapes today are the result of the cumulative effects of climate and land-use change over millennial timescales. In this review, we compile archaeological and palaeoenvironmental data from East Africa to document land-cover change, and environmental, subsistence and land-use transitions, over the past 6000 years. Throughout East Africa there have been a series of relatively rapid and high-magnitude environmental shifts characterised by changing hydrological budgets during the mid- to late Holocene. For example, pronounced environmental shifts that manifested as a marked change in the rainfall amount or seasonality and subsequent hydrological budget throughout East Africa occurred around 4000, 800 and 300 radiocarbon years before present (yr BP). The past 6000 years have also seen numerous shifts in human interactions with East African ecologies. From the mid-Holocene, land use has both diversified and increased exponentially, this has been associated with the arrival of new subsistence systems, crops, migrants and technologies, all giving rise to a sequence of significant phases of land-cover change. The first large-scale human influences began to occur around 4000 yr BP, associated with the introduction of domesticated livestock and the expansion of pastoral communities. The first widespread and intensive forest clearances were associated with the arrival of iron-using early farming communities around 2500 yr BP, particularly in productive and easily-cleared mid-altitudinal areas. Extensive and pervasive land-cover change has been associated with population growth, immigration and movement of people. The expansion of trading routes between the interior and the coast, starting around 1300 years ago and intensifying in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries CE, was one such process. These caravan routes possibly acted as conduits for spreading New World crops such as maize (Zea mays), tobacco (Nicotiana spp.) and tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum), although the processes and timings of their introductions remains poorly documented. The introduction of southeast Asian domesticates, especially banana (Musa spp.), rice (Oryza spp.), taro (Colocasia esculenta), and chicken (Gallus gallus), via transoceanic biological transfers around and across the Indian Ocean, from at least around 1300 yr BP, and potentially significantly earlier, also had profound social and ecological consequences across parts of the region.

    Through an interdisciplinary synthesis of information and metadatasets, we explore the different drivers and directions of changes in land-cover, and the associated environmental histories and interactions with various cultures, technologies, and subsistence strategies through time and across space in East Africa. This review suggests topics for targeted future research that focus on areas and/or time periods where our understanding of the interactions between people, the environment and land-cover change are most contentious and/or poorly resolved. The review also offers a perspective on how knowledge of regional land-use change can be used to inform and provide perspectives on contemporary issues such as climate and ecosystem change models, conservation strategies, and the achievement of nature-based solutions for development purposes.

  • 2017. Mikael Bergius (et al.).
  • 2017. Mats Widgren. Economic Development and Environmental History in the Anthropocene, 51-67
  • 2017. Mikael Bergius, Tor A. Benjaminsen, Mats Widgren. The Journal of Peasant Studies

    ‘Green economy’ is a broad concept open to different interpretations, definitions and practices ranging from the greening of current neoliberal economies to radical transformations of these economies. In Africa, one emerging and powerful idea in the implementation of the green economy seems to be to use a green agenda to further strengthen development as modernization through capital-intensive land investments. This has again reinvigorated old debates about large-scale versus smallholder agriculture. Influential actors justify large-scale ‘green’ investments by the urgency for economic development as well as to offset carbon emissions and other environmental impacts. In this contribution, we discuss the case of the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) to give examples of how the green economy may materialize in Africa. SAGCOT is presented by the Tanzanian government as well as investors and donors as a leading African example of an ‘investment blueprint’ and as a laboratory to test green growth combining profitable farming with the safeguard of ecosystem services. In particular, we discuss three Scandinavian investments within SAGCOT, their social implications and their discursive representations through the public debates that these investments have generated in Scandinavia.

  • 2016. Mats Widgren. Methods in World History, 85-105
  • 2016. Hans Andersson, Mats Widgren.

    Is it possible to survive on a deserted farm: Manors, tenants and farming systems during the Middle Ages in the Lägerbo area, Östergötland. 

    This study approaches the late medieval farm desertion from a landscape perspective. It focuses on the area of a former medieval estate in southern Östergötland, Sweden. Based on a retrogressive analysis of cadastral maps and historical records the medieval settlement is reconstructed. In this process three formerly unknown deserted farms were identified, with abandoned field systems and building remains.  The volume provides the archaeological documentation of field systems and settlements at these sites. These data provide the background for investigating the shifting social and ecological circumstances that once made it possible for tenant families to survive on these farms. During the height of the manorial system the small farms were specialised units in a redistributive system. In the late 14th century the estate and all tenant farms were donated to the convents of Vadstena and Vreta.  Rents were no longer paid in labour but in butter.  In the fifteenth century several farms were abandoned and turned into meadows under the surviving farms. The new tenurial relations prevented the recolonization of the farms. The study is the result of an interdisciplinary project involving medieval archaeology, historical geography, palynology and medieval history.

  • 2016. Mats Widgren (et al.). Journal of African Archaeology 14 (1), 33-53

    Earlier work on the terraced settlements of the Bokoni area (16th to 19th century, Mpumalanga province, South Africa) focussed on the homesteads, their contents, layout and chronology. This paper suggests a terminology and typology of agrarian structures in Bokoni in order to improve comparative approaches in Africa and beyond. The typology and an excavation of the terracing have made possible preliminary conclusions relevant for the further analysis of the terracing and stone-walling in Bokoni. The terracing developed incrementally, whereby cultivation, stone-clearing and terracing were intermixed processes. This is supported both by the organic content in a section of a terrace and by a phytolith analysis. The phytolith analysis furthermore indicated that maize was cultivated on the terraces, but this should be seen as a pilot study only, and presence of maize in Bokoni must be tested with other archaeobotanical methods.

  • 2015. Mats Widgren. Norsk Geografisk Tidsskrift 69 (4), 197-206

    Widgren, M. 2015. Linking Nordic landscape geography and political ecology. Norsk Geografisk Tidsskrift-Norwegian Journal of Geography Vol. 00, 00-00. ISSN 0029-1951. The article analyses and compares two schools of landscape research - post-war European landscape history and Nordic landscape geography - and compares them with political ecology. Each of them developed within a specific political, environmental, and intellectual context. European landscape history developed as curiosity-driven research, but in the shadow of previous ideological misuse of settlement history. Political ecology developed in the context of the Sahel crisis and provided a radical answer to Malthusian simplifications of the desertification and land degradation. In contrast to that, Nordic landscape geography grew as an intellectual critical reaction to a European situation in which post-productivist landscape policies were on the agenda. The article also speculates on challenges ahead and suggests that the epoch when we understand European landscapes mainly from a post-productivist standpoint may be over.

  • 2014. Mats Widgren. Azania 49 (4), 524-529

    This brief comment argues that the use of the term furrow system for locally developed irrigation in Eastern Africa is misleading in an international comparative perspective. It is at odds with the terminology in irrigation engineering and also with the archaeological terminology used outside Eastern Africa. Internationally, the term canal is used for the artificial watercourses that bring water from the source to the field, while furrow irrigation refers to one specific way of applying water to the individual field.

  • 2014. Mats Widgren. Faculty of Social Sciences, Stockholm University, 145-174
  • 2014. Mats Widgren. Medetlida storgårdar, 59-72
  • Book (ed) Landesque Capital
    2014. N. Thomas Håkansson, Mats Widgren.
Show all publications by Mats Widgren at Stockholm University

Last updated: September 7, 2020

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