Calendar (Syllabus of Readings)

Unit 2: Studying the History of Famine

Many of the theoretical discussions presented above take existing state power and the modernizing trend of technology as a given and neglect historical communities lacking these influences.  How do the power structures described by Garnsey and Jordan differ from those of modern states?  What role does agricultural technology play a role in the community’s resistance to famine?  Also: particularly for Garnsey, the records are scarce.  What sources do the authors use and what economic theories or anthropological work do they rely on?  Do the theories merely fill in gaps in their story?  Can pre-modern history address the concerns of modern economics?

Week 5, Mon. 2/18 – Studying Ancient Famines

Reading: Peter Garnsey, Famine and Food Supply in the Greco-Roman World: Responses to Risk and Crisis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988); 1-86.  Required Purchase

Packet of source material from Ancient Rome. Courses Server


Week 5, Thurs. 2/21 – Famines in Greece and Rome - All Primary Sources, All the Time

Reading: See the Packet now available on the main page, as well as any of the following chronicles:

Week 6, Mon. 2/25 – Mediterranean Famines: Catalonia in 1374

Reading: William Chester Jordan, The Great Famine: Northern Europe in the Fourteenth Century (Princeton University Press, 1996); 1-60 and 60-107 or 108-166.  Ebrary


Week 6, Thurs. 2/28 – Agrarian Systems in Medieval Europe

Presentation of my own dissertation with questions. Try to read ahead of time:

Reading: M. M. Postan, “Note: Money, Population and Economic Change in Late Medieval Europe” in The Economic History Review 12:1 (1959): 77-82.

Robert Brenner, "Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe" in Past and Present 70 1976), pp. 30-75.

M. M. Postan and John Hatcher, “Population and Class Relations in Feudal Society,” in Past and Present 7 (1978): 24-37.

Gregory Clark, “The Economics of Exhaustion, the Postan Thesis, and the Agricultural Revolution,” in The Journal of Economic History 52:1 (1992): 61-84.

Week 7, Mon. 3/4 – Studying Modern Famine

Primary Sources – The Irish Potato Famine: This famine remains one of the most famous in recent times.  Both the potato “late blight” and the notorious disregard of the English contributed to mass starvation in Ireland.  However, even contemporaries were aware of the complex politics surrounding England’s “Irish Policy”.  This week we will examine a variety of primary sources and then compare them to a variety of secondary descriptions to see how different narratives of the event have been formed.  What sources do historians made use of? What questions do our sources raise that seem to go unanswered?  Does anything in the sources not fit with what we know of the famine?

Sources: See Additional Bibliography for options.  Each student will pick one or more primary sources (depending on length) and prepare a short (5 minute) presentation on the nature and use of their source.  Then, on Thursday, each source will be coupled with a secondary source focused on the same topic and we will discuss how historians construct and write about the Irish Potato Famine.

Week 7, Thurs. 3/7 – Irish Potato Famine

Reading: See Additional Bibliography.

Week 8, Mon. 3/11 – Climate and the Study of History: Crisis of the 17th Century

Reading: “Forum: The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century Revisited,” American Historical Review 113:4 (2008): 1029-1099 Online

Including: “Introduction,” 1029-1030.

Dewald, “Crisis, Chronology and the Shape of European Social History,” 1031-1052.

Parker, “Crisis and Catastrophe: The Global Crisis of the Seventeenth Century Reconsidered,” 1053-1079.

Shank, “Crisis: A Useful Category of Post–Social Scientific Historical Analysis?,” 1090. 

Marmé, “Locating Linkages or Painting Bull's-Eyes around Bullet Holes? An East Asian Perspective on the Seventeenth-Century Crisis,” 1080-1089.


And for people who have read some/all of the above, try these out:


Week 8, Thurs. 3/14 – Introduction to Weather

Reading: William James Burroughs, Climate Change: An Interdisciplinary Approach (Cambridge University Press, 2007), 36-80.


Friday 3/15 – Second Paper Due: Final Paper Prospectus



Last modified: Friday, March 8, 2013, 9:58 PM