Why in the pre-industrial period were some settlements resilient and stable over the long term while other settlements were vulnerable to crisis? Indeed, what made certain human habitations more prone to decline or even total collapse, than others? All pre-industrial societies had to face certain challenges: exogenous environmental hazards such as earthquakes or plagues, economic or political hazards from ’outside’ such as warfare or expropriation of property, or hazards of their own-making such as soil erosion or subsistence crises. How then can we explain why some societies were able to overcome or negate these problems, while other societies proved susceptible to failure, as settlements contracted, stagnated, were abandoned, or even disappeared entirely? This book has been stimulated by the questions and hypotheses put forward by a recent ’disaster studies’ literature - in particular, by placing the intrinsic arrangement of societies at the forefront of the explanatory framework. Essentially it is suggested that the resilience or vulnerability of habitation has less to do with exogenous crises themselves, but on endogenous societal responses which dictate: (a) the extent of destruction caused by crises and the capacity for society to protect itself; and (b) the capacity to create a sufficient recovery. By empirically testing the explanatory framework on a number of societies between the Middle Ages and the nineteenth century in England, the Low Countries, and Italy, it is ultimately argued in this book that rather than the protective functions of the state or the market, or the implementation of technological innovation or capital investment, the most resilient human habitations in the pre-industrial period were those than displayed an equitable distribution of property and a well-balanced distribution of power between social interest groups. Equitable distributions of power and property were the underlying conditions in pre-industrial societies that all
We like to forget that agriculture is one of the core human activities. In historic societies most people lived in the countryside: a high, if falling proportion of the population were engaged in the production and processing of foodstuffs. The possession of land was a key form of wealth: it brought not only income from tenants but prestige, access to a rural lifestyle and often political power. Nor could government ever be disinterested in the countryside, whether to maintain urban food supply, as a source of taxation, or to maintain social peace. Increasingly it managed every aspect of the countryside. Agriculture itself and the social relations within the countryside were in constant flux as farmers reacted to new or changing opportunities, and landlords sought to maintain or increase their incomes. Moreover, urban attitudes to - and representation of - the landscape and its inhabitants were constantly shifting.
These questions of competition and change, production, power and perception are the primary themes of the series. It looks at change and competition in the countryside: social relations within it and between urban and rural societies. The series offers a forum for the publication of the best work on all of these issues, straddling the economic, social and cultural, concentrating on the rural history of Britain and Ireland, Europe and its colonial empires, and North America over the past millennium.