Coping with Hunger

HungerJessica Dijkman, Utrecht University

In pre-modern Europe, some societies were better at preventing food crises from developing into catastrophic famines than others. The aim of this project is to discover why. The project focuses on the impact of two sets of institutions: on the one hand market regulations that determined exchange entitlements, such as bread price regulation, export prohibitions or attempts to control speculation, and on the other non-market mechanisms governing the distribution of scarce food supplies, such as charity organizations. The contribution of these two institutional arrangements is contrasted with the impact of international market integration as an important non-institutional factor.

The project looks at long-term processes and uses a comparative perspective. It studies developments in three regions in the period 1300-1800: Holland, eastern England and north-western France. For each of these regions the project includes a reconstruction of the occurrence of famines, an assessment of the development of international grain market integration, and an analysis of the evolution of mechanisms for market regulation and non-market distribution based on case studies in an urban and a rural context. The main hypothesis to be tested is that success in warding off famine was not achieved until both institutional and non-institutional conditions had been fulfilled: the opportunity to select, from this range, the best strategies increased flexibility and thus the ability to cope with food crises.

This project is funded with a veni grant from the NWO.