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Theme: Urban-rural dichotomies in historical demography

Day of Historical Demography

When 11 December 2015
Where University of Groningen
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The Eighth Day of Historical Demography, with the theme Urban-rural dichotomies in historical demography, takes place Friday 11 December 2015 in Groningen.

An initiative of the Scientific Research Network Historical Demography and N.W. Posthumus Institute

Theme: Urban-rural dichotomies in historical demography

Organisers: Richard Paping (University of Groningen), Jan Kok (Radboud University Nijmegen), Saskia Hin (Leuven University), Christa Matthys (Ghent University)

Date and location: 11 December 2015, University of Groningen

In historical demography, the idea is widespread that peoples’ lives were strongly affected by urban-rural differentials. On the one hand, trade and industry cities are thought to be unhealthier living environments than the predominantly agrarian countryside. On the other hand, urban centres are portrayed as less traditional, less static and more prosperous than rural areas.  The Eighth Day of Historical Demography aims at questioning the validity of the urban-rural dichotomy in the long run from an interdisciplinary perspective. Did life chances, behaviour and strategies in the past indeed differ profoundly between rural people and city dwellers?

Is this dichotomy appropriate and functional or do we need more ingenious theoretical concepts and approaches to study life chances and behaviour?  How relevant are urban-rural differences compared to other factors (social group, time etc.)?

This call invites paper proposals pertaining to this broad theme. At the same time, we explicitly encourage papers on two more specific subthemes: a) differentials in mortality and anthropometric indicators of health; and b) marriage and reproduction among rural-urban migrants.

a)      Differentials in mortality and anthropometric indicators of health

For centuries cities were infamous for their relatively high levels of mortality. During the 19th century, however, the tide seems to turn as a result of better sanitary and health facilities in urban centres. The combined effects of the living environment, biological and socioeconomic factors on physical wellbeing and susceptibility to disease can be studied by looking at mortality differences as well as by examining stature. Adult height reflects strong and/or enduring adverse conditions during childhood or early adolescence. In contrast to studies based on mortality data, anthropometric studies emphasize the negative effects of industrialisation and urbanisation on human welfare. Evidence on human height seems to indicate that factors such as population density, housing and working conditions overruled the impact of public health initiatives. We welcome papers based on statistical or skeletal evidence that shed further light on health and mortality and the factors shaping divergences in these between urban and rural settings. 

b)      Marriage and reproduction among rural-urban migrants

Changes in co-residence, nuptiality and fertility seem to have occurred earlier in cities than on the countryside. Cities were also dynamic in the sense that a large proportion of their population consisted of geographically mobile groups, such as rural-urban migrants. The role of these groups in processes of demographic change needs further examination. Were migrants ‘positively selected’ with regard to health, socio-economic status and openness to innovations? How successful were countrymen who moved to the city: did their chances for marriage and/or upward social mobility improve? Who were the first to change their behaviour with regard to marriage and reproduction: rural-urban immigrants, urban natives or other groups? And what about the many return migrants? Did they fail or instead accumulated human capital in the more diversified urban society? Did they contribute to the diffusion of innovative demographic behaviour?

Paper proposals (in English) can be sent to no later than 31 May 2015.

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