IMC 2018: Sessions

Session 549: Disaster Memory in the Middle Ages, I

Tuesday 3 July 2018, 09.00-10.30

Sponsor:Abteilung für Wirtschafts-, Sozial- und Umweltgeschichte, Universität Bern
Organiser:Christian Rohr, Historisches Institut, Universität Bern
Moderator/Chair:Martin Bauch, Leibniz-Institut für Geschichte und Kultur des östlichen Europa, Leipzig
Paper 549-aDisaster Memory in Norman Historiography, 1000-1550
(Language: English)
Chantal Camenisch, Historisches Institut, Universität Bern
Index terms: Geography and Settlement Studies, Historiography - Medieval, Mentalities, Social History
Paper 549-bThe Great Famine and the Cattle Plague and the Interest in Astrometeorology in 14th-Century England
(Language: English)
Kathleen Pribyl, Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia
Index terms: Daily Life, Economics - Rural, Geography and Settlement Studies, Social History
Paper 549-cFlood Marks as Relics of Medieval Disaster Memory Cultures in Central Europe
(Language: English)
Christian Rohr, Historisches Institut, Universität Bern
Index terms: Daily Life, Geography and Settlement Studies, Mentalities, Social History

Looking at natural disasters from a cultural history point-of-view, the short and long-time memory is an essential aspect for further prevention and preparedness of the affected people. In medieval societies, religious, astrometeorological, and practical memory cultures can be found. However, a critical analysis of some specific rituals of memory connected with natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes, or with long-time effects such as droughts and famines, had been constructed much later than someone might expect. The double session sheds light on different types of disaster memory. The examples are taken from Spain, northern France, England, Scandinavia, and the Holy Roman Empire. The approaches are mostly cultural and literary history bound, but also relate to ‘natural archives’ and methods taken from natural sciences. Paper -a:
Medieval historiographic tradition is very rich in Normandy. During the High Middle Ages, these narrative texts originate in the prosperous monastic tradition of the Noman duchy. In later centuries, chronicles were also written in a more secular context. Many of the historiographic texts contain descriptions of extreme weather events, natural disasters, epidemics and their societal consequences since all these events were very challenging for a society. Disaster memory is an important part of societal learning processes and adaptation strategies. Therefore, this paper examines the way how the authors describe extreme weather, natural disaster, and epidemics by answering the following questions: In which context appear descriptions of this type of events? Did the number and the content change over time? How are the consequences of extreme weather and natural disasters described? Paper -b: The Great Famine 1315-1317 was the most severe famine of the past millennium and cost the lives of c. 10 percent of the population in England. The harvest failures caused by incessant rains were quickly followed by the arrival of a cattle plague, most likely Rinderpest, on England’s shores. The subsequent heavy losses of cattle including oxen resulted in a severe shortage of draught power for the agricultural and transport sectors. Whereas in the chronicles these events, which severely affected the livelihood of the common people, are often overshadowed by the turbulent political developments, the memory of these disasters was alive decades later at Merton College, Oxford, where it contributed to an increased interest in the study of astrometeorology and agriculture. The result is William Merle’s De prognosticacione aeris, one of the rare works that bridges the divide between the academic world and the ordinary people, by analysing the impact of extreme weather conditions on land and people. Paper -c: In historical hydrology, flood marks are mostly used for the reconstruction of the peak discharge of an extreme flood event. However, this is on the one hand a quite tricky question due to the various changes in the landscape and other variables, but on the other hand, flood marks are remarkable testimony of a long-time memory culture. They had been affixed mostly on well visible places, and they sometimes even told a short story about the most disastrous events. In this way, they are rather an excellent source for a cultural history approach within environmental and climate history. The paper will give an overview of some of the most remarkable examples deriving from the late Middle Ages, but will also try to carve out a typology of flood marks. The regional focus is on the German speaking countries within the Holy Roman Empire.