Announcing a major conference on Climate Change and Preindustrial History, Brussels May 2019
Book proposal & call for papers
Climate and Society in Ancient Worlds
Diversity in Collapse and Resilience
Brussels, May 22-24, 2019
Edited & Organized by Paul Erdkamp and J. G. Manning
Climate change over the past thousands of years is undeniable, but debate has arisen about its impact on past human societies. The decline and even collapse of complex societies in the Americas, Africa and the Eurasian continent has been blamed on catastrophic shifts in temperature and precipitation. Other scholars, however, see climate change as potentially hastening endogenous processes of political, economic and demographic decline, but argue that complex societies did not fall victim to climate alone. In other words, a debate has arisen concerning the nature and scope of climatic forces on human society and the extent of resilience within complex societies to deal with adverse changes in natural circumstances. The debate so far has shown that the role of long-term climate change and short-term climatic events in the history of mankind can no longer be denied. At the same time, the realization has also emerged that further study must go beyond global patterns and general answers. Diversity governs both climate change and human society. Hence, furthering our understanding of the role of climate in human history requires complex theories that combine on the one hand recent paleoclimatic models that recognize the high extent of temporal and spatial variation and, on the other, models of societal change that allow for the complexity of societal response to internal and external forces.
Our conference will focus on the link between climate and society in ancient worlds, which all have in common a sparsity of empirical data that limits our understanding of the endogenous and exogenous variables responsible for societal change and our ability to empirically establish the causal links between them. Lacking precise and secure historic data on weather, harvests, prices, population, health and mortality, historical reconstructions run the risk of being overwhelmed by impressive quantities of long-term paleoclimatic proxy-data. Due to the sparsity of societal data, early economies may appear to be more subjected to environmental forces than later pre-industrial societies. The challenge is to bring both perspectives together in models that allow an evenly balanced analysis of the link between climate and society.
The conference intends to promote the multi-disciplinary debate between scholars working on climate and society from various backgrounds. Creating complex models is a multi-disciplinary effort, requiring the cooperation and debate between historians, archaeologists, biologists, paleoclimatologists and others. The chronological boundaries of the conference are set by the emergence of complex societies in the Neolithic on the one end and the rise of early-modern states in global political and economic exchange on the other. However, exact boundaries have no place in historical investigation, and while we intend to focus on the ancient economies of the Americas, Africa and Eurasia from the fourth millennium BCE up to the beginning of the second millennium CE, scholars are invited to treat the chronological boundaries as loosely as they are intended.
This project is intended as a conference, but also from the start as a book-project. The objective is to produce a wide-ranging but coherent comparative study of climate change and society in early economies. We aim at about 25 chapters of ca. 6000 words (or about 15 pages in print). All chapters are to be published in English.
Authors who wish to contribute a chapter should send us a chapter outline of between 500- 1000 words, clearly stating their topic, research hypotheses and objectives. Chapter outlines have to reach us before June 29, 2018. A first draft (or working paper) is expected by April 1, 2019. Authors are invited to discuss their pre-circulated papers at the conference in Brussels, May 22-24, 2019