Call for papers: Famines during the ‘Little Ice Age’

Famines during the ‘Little Ice Age’ (1300-1800) Socio-natural entanglements in premodern societies Workshop of the Heidelberg Center for the Environment, 19th/20th February 2015, ZiF, Bielefeld


Global climate change has put famines back on the agenda. The predicted rise of extreme weather raises the question, how similar events were met in historical societies. However, such studies are challenged by disciplinary constraints. Famines occur at the interface of nature and culture. They involve both the bio-physical as well as the social sphere. Their entanglement highlights the co-evolvement of natural environment and social actions. This broad socio-ecological character extends beyond the reach of individual disciplines. As a result, popular references to the dramatic impact of famines during the premodern era are often based on conjectures.

The workshop will bring together researchers from the natural and social sciences as well as the humanities. With reference to recent interdisciplinary concepts (disaster studies, vulnerability studies, environmental history) it will examine, how the dominant opposition of natural and cultural factors can be overcome. Such an integrated approach includes the “archives of nature” as well as “archives of man”. In this way, deterministic models can be tested and replaced with a dynamic, historicising approach to the events. During the discussion we are seeking answers to the following topics:

  • Which data, sources and case studies can make integrative approaches work?
  • Which concepts and research designs overcome both climatically and culturally deterministic models?
  • How can we improve our understanding of the entanglement and co-development of environment and society as well as the cultural consequences of extreme natural impacts?
  • How can we uncover the complex historical perceptions, interpretations and coping strategies?

The workshop covers the agrarian societies of the “little ice age” (1300-1800), where famines constituted the “normal exceptions” to every-day life. The focus is on contributions that treat cases in Europe as well as Asia. We also welcome comparative, inter-cultural studies, interdisciplinary approaches and methodological considerations.

The event is organised by the research group “Environment and Society. Facing Famine in the Early Modern World” at the Heidelberg Center for the Environment (HCE) and will be held at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF) in Bielefeld. Travel costs and hotel accommodation of the speakers will be covered by the ZiF. The conference papers are scheduled to be published in an edited volume.


Zentrum für interdisziplinäre Forschung, Universität Bielefeld, Methoden 1, D-33615 BielefeldParticipation:

Researchers interested in joining us, are asked to send an abstract of the paper (max. 500 words) as well as a short biography by September 15th to:


Dr. Maximilian Schuh

Heidelberg Center for the Environment, Historisches Seminar
Grabengasse 3-5, 69117 Heidelberg
Ph. +49-6221-54-6560