Call for Papers: ESSHC 2018 Panel - International Grain Markets in Pre-Industrial Europe

RHN 59/2017 | Call

Organisers: Giulio Ongaro and Luca Mocarelli, Rural History Network

4-7 April 2018, Belfast, N-Ireland

Deadline for proposals: 22 April 2017

Call for Papers:
Rural History Network Panel at the ESSHC 2018
Between Abundance and Scarcity: International Grain Markets in Pre-Industrial Europe (XVI–XIX centuries)

The aim of the panel is to analyse the functioning and the problems linked to the international grain markets during the Early Modern Period. The session wants to proceed, according with the most recent historical analysis, overcoming the two classical perspectives focused – respectively – on a grain distribution regulated by the availability of the resources (the Malthusian one) or defined by the capability of the institutions and of the economic actors (private and public ones) to assure the distribution of the food (the Marxian point of view). In the last years, many researches focused on the topic of the grain availability and famines (Alfani, Ó Gráda) and, more generally, on the functioning of the grain markets and distribution. About this last topic, the more recent historiography describes a market that already in the Early Modern Period, at least in the eighteenth century, was markedly international and integrated: in other words, there was a strong connection between productive areas and marketplaces thanks to a thick net of merchants acting in this context [1]. More, public institutions played a fundamental role, trying to regulate prices, import and exports of grains, in order to reach a double goal: on one hand, they had to assure the food for their subjects in order to avoid scarcity and, as a consequence, revolts and upheavals. On the other hand, they had to guarantee at the same time incomes for the landowners – often members themselves of the governing élite – also in years of abundance of harvests, when the risk of lowering of prices was high.

The paper proposals have to examine in depth this general picture, analysing the various elements that characterise the grain market. Possible topics could be:

- The interconnection of grain markets in the Early Modern Europe, thanks to the analysis of (new) price series and thanks to the case studies of international merchants;

- The role of public institutions in controlling and organising the commerce and the distributions of grains, especially wheat.

These topics will certainly add more tiles to the picture drawn by the researches referred above. However, as reported above, the production, distribution and consumption of grains were not only influenced by the role played by markets or public institutions. The panel aims to underline also the role of other elements in affecting – sometimes in a quite important way – the circulation of grains and their prices. Precisely, proposals could focus also on the following topics: these elements played a fundamental role in shaping grain markets but, in spite of this, had received little attention from historians:

- The conservation of grains. Conservation of food – and especially of grains – was a great problem in an era in which there were not chemical additive in order to contain the natural deterioration of the products. It was a crucial element in the choices made by public and private actors concerning the sale or the accumulation of provisions, with important consequences on the market and on the availability of grains for the population;

- Smuggling of grains. From another point of view, contraband was a fundamental element in defining the circulation of grains, too; actually, it is quite difficult to calculate the real amount of grains commercialised on the illegal market, but smuggling was certainly a factor able to partially rebalance the differences between prices in various markets. More, in some areas, in-going contraband could be encouraged by the public authorities themselves, in order to limit the chronic shortage of the agricultural output.

- War and military needs. The presence of armies (land ones and sea ones) was another crucial element both in affecting market dynamics and in conditioning the choices on grain trade of public institutions. The need to supply a large amount of soldiers, especially if in an exceptional moment (such as a war) could cause a rapid and considerable increase in grain prices; more, it could attract merchants and investors from other provinces and countries, stimulating the internalisation of the markets. On the contrary, in some cases the states could impede the exports of wheat, rye and rice, if needed by their own army. Finally, the military field could be a great solution in years of abundant harvests, in order to drain the exceeding agricultural production (for example increasing the stockpiles of biscuit) avoiding an excessive lowering of the grain prices that could be disastrous for the landowners.

Proposals (max 500 words) can be sent to the session organisers Giulio Ongaro ( and Luca Mocarelli ( before Saturday 22 April 2017.

[1] VICTORIA N. BATEMAN, The evolution of markets in early modern Europe, 1350–1800: a study of wheat prices, in Economic History Review, Volume 64 Issue 2, May 2011, pp. 447-471; RAFAEL DOBADO-GONZÁLEZ, ALFREDO GARCÍA-HIERNAUX e DAVID E. GUERRERO, The Integration of Grain Markets in the Eighteenth Century: Early Rise of Globalization in the West, in Journal of Economic History, Volume 72 / Issue 03 / September 2012, pp. 671-707.

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