Workshop: The impact of disasters on pre-modern rural economies

RHN 105/2014 | Event

Organisers: International Scientific Coordination Network (GDRI): “CRIses and Changes in the European Countryside in the long run” (CRICEC)

13–14 November 2014, Münster, Germany

The impact of disasters on pre-modern rural economies:
Consequences for the countryside in Northwestern Europe before 1850

Pre-modern societies were highly vulnerable to all kinds of disaster. This is particularly true for rural economies as agricultural production was directly affected by climate and environmental changes. Recurrent adverse climate during the Little Ice Age as well as widespread epidemics or warfare often caused serious social and economic dislocation. However, not only did disasters had different causes and variable consequences across regions, but in addition communities and states differed with respect to institutions designed to manage such crises and to cope with a wide range of environmental hazards.

Being part of the CORN and CRICEC research programmes, the workshop aims at shedding light on the degree of vulnerability of rural economies in Northwestern Europe in the late Middle Ages and in early modern times and their capacity to react to short-term and long-term effects of different sorts of disaster. It addresses four types of disaster in the countryside, namely climate variation and climate anomalies, flooding, warfare and epizootics diseases. These dis-asters produced short-term dislocation to a variable extent, such as market disequilibria and a disruption of trade, food shortages and famines, the spread of epidemic diseases as well as in-creases in the inequality with respect to income and/or property rights. In addition they had distinct long-term repercussions on the rural economy. Thus, a focus of the workshop will be laid on the ways in which disasters and the institutions designed to cope with them influenced the development of rural Northwestern Europe before 1850. Moreover, pre-existing differences in institutions, technologies, social relationships and market organization that may explain regional divergence in handling disasters shall be considered as well.

Specifically, the workshop addresses the following research issues:

  • What was the immediate impact of a specific disaster, and what sort of, if any, long-term consequences had it?
  • Were food markets capable to alleviate regional supply shocks? Or did an adverse income development lead to demand failure and to an aggravation of hardship in the wake of disaster?
  • Which institutions, either being in use, being reshaped or being newly introduced, helped to mitigate the immediate impact of disasters and to cope with future environmental risks?
  • Which technologies already existed or were newly developed to cope with environmental hazards?
  • To what extent did disasters increase inequality regarding income, food entitlements, access to measures of relief and the distribution of property rights in the countryside?
  • How were disasters perceived by contemporaries, which narratives on disaster were told and by which sources can specific discourses be reconstructed?


Thursday, 13 November 2014

9.00–9.15 Welcome and conference opening

9.15–11.15 Session 1: Flooding and water management (I)
Petra van DAM (Amsterdam): Floods in the Netherlands, regional comparisons
Piet van CRUYNINGEN (Wageningen): The calamitous polders of Zeeland
Daniel CURTIS (Utrecht): Danger and displacement in the Dollard: the 1508/09 flooding of the Dollard Sea (Groningen) and its impact on property distribution

11.15–11.30 Coffee break

11.30–13.00 Session 2: Flooding and water management (II)
Milya van TIELHOF (Huygens ING): The relationship between floods, monetization of dike maintenance and social distribution of landownership
Tim SOENS (Antwerpen): The Environmental Kuznets Curve of agrarian capitalism and flood disaster in the North Sea area: strength and weaknesses of a model (1300–1800)

13.00–14.00 Lunch

14.00–15.30 Session 3: Contemporary narratives of natural disasters
Gerrit DEUTSCHLÄNDER (Hamburg): Writing about natural phenomena and disasters in Renaissance letters
Franz MAUELSHAGEN (Essen): Hail storm disasters in the early modern Swiss Confederation, c. 1550–1800

15.30–16.00 Coffee break

16.00–18.00 Session 4: Strategies to cope with disaster
Jessica DIJKMAN (Utrecht): Escape from hunger in rural Holland, 1500–1800
Mats MORELL (Stockholm): Adaptation to crises and weather-related harvest fluctuations: the resilience of peasant households in East Central Sweden in late 18th and early 19th centuries
Laurent HERMENT (Paris), Resilience of rural communities faced with subsistence crises in the Paris Basin between 1793 and 1853: A learning process?

18.00–19.00 Keynote lecture
Cormac Ó’GRÁDÁ (Dublin): What history tells us about markets and famines

19.30 Dinner

Friday, 14 November 2014

9.00–11.00 Session 5: Crises-related state policies
Roberto LEGGERO (Lugano/Mendrisio): Forms of »Welfare State« in rural communities in the Swiss Alps during the Middle Ages
Filip van ROOSBROECK (Antwerpen): Mirage or reality: state policy and its effectiveness during the rinderpest epizootic of 1769-1785

11.00–11.30 Coffee break

11.30–13.00 Session 6: Consequences of war
Annemieke ROMEIN (Rotterdam): The perceived impact of warfare and taxations on welfare (1642–1655): the German principalities of Jülich-Berg and Hesse-Cassel in a comparative perspective with the French province of Brittany
Mark SPOERER (Regensburg): War and the reform of state finance: the rural areas of Prussia and Wuerttemberg in comparison (1815–1830)

13.00–14.00 Lunch

14.00–15.30 Session 7: Impact of weather fluctuations and climate change (I)
Johannes BRACHT (Halle): Climate variation and land rental values in a long-term perspective, Westphalia 1600–1900
Martin UEBELE (Groningen): The impact of natural disasters during the early 19th century – a comparison of Chinese and European regions

15.30–17.00 Session 8: Impact of weather fluctuations and climate change (II)
Cédric CHAMBRU (Genève): Weather fluctuations and social conflicts during the Old Regime (1661‒1789)
Ulf Christian EWERT (Münster): Climate change, subsistence crises and the nutritional status in pre-modern agricultural societies: the case of France in late 17th and early 18th centuries

17.00–17.30 Coffee break

17.30–19.00 Conclusions and discussion
Tim SOENS (Antwerpen) and Bas van BAVEL (Utrecht): Conclusions

Programme (PDF)