Malthus: Food, Land, People

RHN 66/2015 | Event

Convenors: Alison Bashford (University of Cambridge), Shailaja Fennell (University of Cambridge), Duncan Kelly (University of Cambridge), David Nally (University of Cambridge)

16-21 June 2016, CRASSH (SG1&2) and Jesus College, Cambridge, UK

Malthus: Food, Land, People

2016 is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Robert Malthus (1766–1834), author of the most famous book on population ever written. Since its original publication in 1798, the Essay on the Principle of Population has never been out of print, nor has it been out of public discussion. This is not just because of Malthus’s thesis, but because the substance of his work touches so many critical issues in the human and natural sciences: good and bad government; equality and inequality; food and agriculture; demographies and human behavior; sex and gender; land and property; development trajectories and economic predictions, histories and futures.

This interdisciplinary conference will be the most substantial reassessment of Malthus, his ideas, and his global significance for several generations. Historians, economists, literary scholars, political theorists, geographers, demographers, and philosophers will share their views on Malthus and Malthusianism in and for his own centuries, and for ours, a century defined by accelerating public debate on environment, population, and food security. We aim to escape (although perhaps, if beneficial, to analyse) the bifurcated pro- and anti-Malthusian stances that have accumulated since 1798. We will ask different questions of Malthus and his famous text: What is the long history of development here? Was gender a key element for Malthus, and if so, what do the major changes in cultures of gender and sex mean for his thesis? How did and does the extra-European world figure? What philosophy of limits has governed changing assessment of Malthus? Does Malthus help us think through the connection between economy and ecology? How have and will different demographic structures in the past and present been mapped onto types of food production and patterns of rural development? What has the foregrounding of "climate" in recent years done to the principle of population?