Proposal preview

Famine and relief in the pre-industrial and modern world: a global and comparative perspective

One of the most salient of all modern generalizations concerning famines is the idea that given the political will to redistribute resources and to rely on international aid, famines are easily preventable – those that do happen are, essentially, allowed to happen. This view emerged gradually as scholars began to challenge the prevalent but oversimplified generalization that famines were merely localized events caused by calamity and poverty. The integration of the world economy and globalization of food trade have brought increasing attention to the role played by international markets and trade institutions in processes leading to famines and food insecurity. Transnational and internal political causes and international means of relief to counter famines are the hallmarks of the so-called new famine paradigm. However, dubbing the food crises that take place in the modern developing world as ‘complex emergencies’ and ‘new famines’, the paradigm has introduced an implicit interpretation that historical famines were somehow simple and local in their essence.

This session aims to historicize the current ‘globalization’ and the ‘new famine’ paradigms. While staged in multiple regions and time periods, two broader themes bind the various papers together. Firstly, using quantitative analysis of fine grained historical data about weather patterns, trade/commercialization and institutions, we aim to further our understanding of the variegated drivers and mitigators of famine and its consequences, especially in pre-industrial societies, from early modern Europe to colonial Asia. Secondly, we address the transformation of famine relief from private charity to global aid, and show that overseas famine relief goes back as early as the 1800s. We seek to contribute to our understanding of the international structure of relief networks, and of the emergence of famines in the context of transnational conflicts and global political systems, especially those of colonial and imperial in nature.


  • Michiel de Haas, Wageningen University,, Netherlands
  • Kostadis Papaioannou, London School of Economics,, United Kingdom
  • Miikka Voutilainen, University of Jyväskylä,, Finland

Session members

  • Cédric Chambru, Université de Genève,
  • Mary Cox, University of Oxford,
  • Ingrid de Zwarte, University of Amsterdam,
  • Jessica Dijkman, Utrecht University,
  • Antti Häkkinen, University of Helsinki,
  • Kersti Lust, Tallinn University,
  • Andrew Newby, Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies,
  • Kostadis Papaioannou, London School of Economics,
  • Bram van Besouw, Utrecht University,

Proposed discussant(s)

  • Daniel Curtis, Leiden University,


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.