5th Conference Of The European Society Of Historical Demography

From the prehistorical migrations to our globalized world, humankind has always been confronted with “others”, who are spontaneously compared to “us”. First, it usually implies a fascination for differences, often – but not always followed by a discovery of commonalities. Demographic thought has been, and still is, heavily influenced by the Malthusian discourse that insisted on the differences between Europeans and the others, and the superiority of the former over the latter. Conversely, almost two centuries later the nuclear hardship theory suggested a greater efficiency of the complex family systems over the nuclear model predominant in Europe. It is now time for new approaches that challenge the past narratives. New approaches that, instead of binary oppositions and hypothetical hierarchies, consider equally similarities and dissimilarities, recognize the ambiguity of borders, reciprocal influences, and the importance not only of external but also internal diversity within the compared populations. Ultimately such studies contribute to a better understanding of demographic regimes and family dynamics. With this in mind, we would like to announce that the 5th ESHD conference leading theme is

The Challenge of Comparing
Across Space and Time


Data and methods for comparative approaches in historical demography and family history

Benefits and pitfalls of comparisons

The diversity of demographic behaviours and Family dynamics across space and time

As always in historical demography, data sources are the foundation. Even when they look the same in various settings, our sources may not have been created for the same reasons and their daily management may also have differed, challenging their comparability. The recording of stillbirths, highly variable from place to place and across time, is a classic example. Coding data is another step. Considerable efforts have been done to create comparable codes of occupations, social statuses, causes of death, and so on. There is, however, still a debate on their use and usefulness. The construction of comparative databases (e.g. through the Intermediate Data Structure) is challenging, just as elaborating statistical methods to realize the same analyses while considering the diversity in the data sources (as did the Eurasian Project).



Beyond what we can contrast, the central issue is always: why do we compare? Studying the responses to economic stresses in preindustrial rural populations in Asia and Europe, or comparing mortality in industrial towns or port cities across 19th century Europe, or the life courses of widows and or-phans after the untimely death of the father, correspond to different scientific ambitions. Such ambitions can be understanding the role of different family and political cultures, or the differential impact of an environment. Scrutinizing the household structures in the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth is another approach, challenging the classic East-West divide.



The demographic and family diversity of historical societies is always present in our studies, as well as the comparative perspective, but often implicit. Our papers start with a literature review to situate our research in a stream and demonstrate its contribution. Typically, our conferences are organized in sessions, each on a specific topic, with several presentations which ideally enter into dialogue. In Nijmegen, during the Fifth Conference of the European Society of Historical Demography, we encourage the chairs, discussants and participants to explicitly address this dimension: What do we learn from each other in terms of methods, approaches, and results? What are the commonalities and differences? How do comparisons help us to understand the interplay of culture, economy, ecology and politics underlying demographic processes?