Call for Papers: The short and long-term responses of European societies to environmental shocks and hazards in the pre-industrial period

RHN 13/2015 | Call

26-27 November 2015, Utrecht University, The Netherlands

Deadline: 15 April 2015

The short and long-term responses of European societies to environmental shocks and hazards in the pre-industrial period:
developing comparative research

The discipline of disaster studies has iterated that environmental hazards cannot be seen as merely ‘natural events’ but as social, cultural and political processes that test the capacity of society to organise itself, limit destabilisation, and move onto a stage of recovery. Some societies, in the way they are set up, should be intrinsically more capable of dealing with such shocks than others, or even preventing them from happening in the first place. At the moment, however, we do not have a deep enough understanding of the reasons behind differential levels of societal ‘resilience’ or ‘vulnerability’.

Part of the reason, we think, may be the difficulties of conducting comparative research on the subject. Frequently episodes of severe exogenous shock are only considered in isolation, or instead different ‘kinds of societies’, different natural environments, and different exogenous shocks and hazards are compared simultaneously, making it difficult to identify whether successful coping mechanisms and recovery are connected to endogenous factors and social organisation or merely differing levels of exposure to severity and magnitude of shock. Furthermore, the definition of ‘successful resilience’ or ‘failed resilience’ often remains obscure or unclear, and scholars often use different criteria for measuring this. This workshop aims to discuss these kinds of methodological issues and problems. Is the future direction of comparative research on hazards and shocks connected to our capacity to create more careful comparative case studies, focusing in on social context, and in the process limiting our dependent and independent variables? Or perhaps now there is a place for more carefully considered use of econometrics in this field?

This workshop is looking to take contributions from scholars working on hazards and shocks in the pre-industrial period, but with an explicitly comparative approach. Comparisons can be between geographical regions, types of institutions, or over time on a chronological level. Whatever approach is taken, however, an explicit justification of items/units of comparison or comparative methodology must be offered. All kinds of environmental shock or hazard will be considered, but including also fires, epidemic diseases, and warfare.

For those that are interested in participating, please send a paper title and an abstract of 250-500 words (mentioning the comparisons) to Daniel R. Curtis (Utrecht University) at, by the 15th of April 2015. Applicants will hear whether they are successful shortly after this date.

This workshop will be funded from contributions from the ERC project of Prof. Bas van Bavel at Utrecht University entitled ‘Coordinating for life: Success and failure of Western European societies in coping with rural hazards and disasters, 1300-1800’ (grant no. 339647), and from the CORN Network (Comparative Rural History of the North Sea Area).