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5th Conference
of the European Society
of Historical Demography

Radboud University, Nijmegen August 30-September 2,2023

Call for papers and sessions

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 dif-ferences, 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 be-tween 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 chal-lenge the past narratives. New approaches that, instead of binary oppositions and hypothetical hierar-chies, 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.

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 man-agement 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. Consid-erable 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 respons-es 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 ambi-tions 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 Nij-megen, 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?

We invite researchers to propose individual papers or complete session proposals (3 to 5 papers) fo-cused on the above-mentioned topics.

As usual, paper or full session proposals dealing with other themes in historical demography and family history are also welcome!


To submit a proposal, just go on ESHD Web Site then click on “5th ESHD Conference Nijmegen”, then on “Submission Form“. Deadline is November 30, 2023.

Some example research questions might be:

  • How do environmental conditions affect demographic behaviour across space and time?
  • What was its mechanism, its major drivers, and the latter’s interaction with socioeconomic, cultural, and other factors?
  • How far does the demographic and environmental specificity of historical populations help us understand the different ways that they responded to external epidemiological stressors?
  • Can the links between demographic variability, ecology and disease be explained in a universal model, or should we rather consider many geographically disparate relationship patterns and interactions?


We invite researchers to propose individual papers or complete session proposals focused on the above-mentioned topics. As usual, papers or full session proposals dealing with other themes in historical demography and family history are also welcome.