Nature as historical protagonist: environment and society in pre-industrial England

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Abstract

This article compares chronologies reconstructed from historical records of prices, wages, grain harvests, and population with corresponding chronologies of growing conditions and climatic variations derived from dendrochronology and Greenland ice-cores. It demonstrates that in pre-industrial, and especially late medieval, England, short-term environmental shocks and more enduring shifts in environmental conditions (sometimes acting in concert with biological agencies) exercised a powerful influence upon the balance struck between population and available resources via their effects upon the reproduction, health and life expectancy of humans, crops, and livestock. Prevailing socio-economic conditions and institutions, in turn, shaped society's susceptibility to these environmental shocks and shifts.

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