Session title: Rhythm and evolution of staple food markets in Europe (1650-1950)
Session Proposal for the European Social Science History Conference (Vienna, 23-26 April 2014) (Network: Economic History)
This session wants to explore the rhythm and evolution of staple food markets in Europe in the modern period. We invite authors to submit an abstract on the topic of seasonal patterns and long-term evolutions in food markets between the mid-seventeenth and mid-twentieth centuries. Proposals for papers dealing with grain, potatoes or sugar beets, and with the volume of transactions on public markets are especially welcome, though other approaches to the theme will be considered as well.
Price behaviour and long-term price movements on staple food markets have received ample attention from scholars. Debate on the degree of market integration, based on patterns in price behaviour, has generated a lot of publications (Federico 2012). Conversely, the volume of transactions on markets seems to have concerned scholars much less. The focus on prices is legitimised by the idea that they form the synthesis of supply and demand. Regarding patterns in the volume of transactions, much more is supposed than exposed. It is very often supposed that prices of staple food, in pre-industrial societies, conformed to a model exhibited by Labrousse and French historians in the middle of the 20th century. According to that model, after harvest, a lot of farmers very quickly sold their crops (between September and December), often to generate the necessary cash to repay outstanding debts, and because of the increase in supply the price dropped. Later, between April and July people, especially peasants, went back to the market as buyers and the prices rose because the supply was narrow and the demand very high. Those hard times were called “soudure” in French. After the middle of the nineteenth century, with the expansion of international trade flows, especially wheat, food provisioning in Europe changed fundamentally. Nonetheless, politicians still periodically referred to the issue of the soudure, which permits a study of trade rhythms and new trade flows even after 1870.
Did the volume of market transactions effectively follow Labrousse’s model with two peaks per year? And if the volume of transactions did so, was that the case for all foodstuffs: for bread grains (wheat, maslin, rye, spelt) as well as for other cereals (oats, barley, buckwheat) or other food such as potatoes or sugar? Were there changes in the long run: did seasonal patterns become less outspoken as part of rising market efficiency? Furthermore, if prices and sale volumes corresponded to Labrousse’s model, it is still unclear whether his hypothesis offers the best explanation. Other hypotheses can certainly be formulated to explain seasonal patterns in prices and transactions, related among other things to the speed of threshing, the characteristics of the crops, the possibility to preserve them and the costs for storage.
Please send your abstract (350 words max) and a short CV (institutional affiliation, research area, main publications) before 05 May 2013 to: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Wouter Ronsijn (Doctor-assistant, Ghent University, History department, EED Research group) and Laurent Herment (Docteur CRH-EHESS GDRI-CRICEC)
Ghent University, History Department, EED Research group
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