IMC 2008: Sessions

Session 628: Lunchtime Lecture - Natural Catastrophes in the Middle Ages: New Approaches

Tuesday 8 July 2008, 13.15-14.00

Introduction:Richard Morris, Institute for Medieval Studies, University of Leeds / School of Music, Humanities & Media, University of Huddersfield
Speaker:Jacques Berlioz, École Nationale des Chartes, Paris

Historians have long neglected the study of natural catastrophes: man, not nature, was the traditional focus of their craft. If undertaken at all, the diachronic investigation of natural phenomena was left to geographers. In the past forty years, research in the field of so-called eco-history has grown steadily, and calamitous events have been scrutinised as ‘dialogue between a social system and an ecosystem’ (S. Briffaud, sociologist). Now it is possible and necessary to envisage a ‘total’ history of natural catastrophes, embracing their geographic, social, politic, economic and cultural components.

Some historical examples of natural catastrophes in Western Europe will be briefly examined: what were their effects on economic and social life, on attitudes and beliefs? Sources (above all ecclesiastical ones) portrayed fear as the prevailing force in history, underplaying or ignoring mankind’s manifest will to survive or to rebuild economic activities. Therefore, all things considered, our medieval forebears took a remarkably dynamic stance when faced with these threats.

Jacques Berlioz, research director at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, was appointed director of the Ecole Nationale des Chartes, Paris in 2006. He published Catastrophes naturelles et calamités au Moyen Age (Firenze, 1998), and has written many articles on this topic.