From Wednesday 30 March to Saturday 2 April 2016, a large Wageningen RHI delegation attended the European Social Science History Conference (ESSHC) organized by the International Institute of Social History (Amsterdam).
The 11th edition of the ESSHC brought social science historians from across the globe to sunny Valencia. The conference was attended by over 1,750 people from 62 countries. The programme was packed with some 100 parallel sessions per day, held in 25 different seminars rooms, and starting at 8.30 in the morning and ending only at 18.30 in the evening. With sessions on topics ranging from “The Pros and Cons of Praxeology in Historiography and the Social Sciences” or “Female Bodies and Sexuality: Historical and Global Perspectives”, to “Mnemonic Strategies in Contemporary Asia” and “Crossroads of the Gendered Self”, the conference was open to gender, cultural, political, economic and social historians interested in all parts of the globe and the in ancient to contemporary history. Economic and social history was especially well presented at the conference and the success of the upsurge of interest in African economic history was also clearly noticeable and there were many good sessions on it.
On Wednesday morning, Piet van Cruyningen kicked off the conference by presenting his work on institutions and investment in Dutch agriculture in the long run in a session on “Improving Cash Crops”. In the afternoon, Corinne Boter had organized a successful panel on household budgets and living standards with contributions on Finland, Spain, an interesting comparison between the Netherlands and the Netherlands Indies presented by her, and the introduction of a new data project on historical household budgets around the globe. That same afternoon, Ewout Frankema and Dacil Juif presented in a session on human capital in sub-Saharan Africa. Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk simultaneously presented her work on female textile workers in colonial Java during a roundtable about the importance of the “local” in the history of globalization.
At the general meeting held on Thursday the Jan Lucassen Award (€1,000) for the best paper presented by PhD students was awarded to the Wageningen PhD students Kostadis Papaioannou and Michiel de Haas for the paper on “Weather shocks, social upheaval and cash crops: Evidence from colonial tropical Africa”. The jury praised its excellent application of social science methods and theory to the historical problem of African farmers’ responses to weather shocks. Because Papaioannou is currently at the University of California-Berkeley as a visiting researcher, De Haas accepted the award (see picture). The award ceremony was followed by a surprise “keynote lecture” by the comedian Adam Fields, who made some good jokes about historians. Together with the reception afterwards, Fields provided the necessary break from the academic work that allowed the scholars to recharge for the remaining two days.
On Friday, Pim de Zwart gave a talk on a new book with Jan Luiten van Zanden on Global well-being since 1820. In the next session, the Wageningen researchers Angus Dalrymple-Smith and Pieter (“Jop”) Woltjer (see picture) hosted an interesting and well-attended session on “Quantifying Transitions: Africa from the 17th to the 20th Century”. The panel contained contributions on the comparative fiscal systems in British and Portuguese Africa (by Kleoniki Alexopoulou), as well as labour and living standards in South Africa (Johan Fourie, Stellenbosch University), and the end of the slave trade and the rise of legitimate commerce (by the organizers).
The final day saw Kate Frederick presenting her new research (the data freshly dug up from the archives in Salem, MA) on ivory and cloth trade in Tanzania and Zanzibar in a session on Pre-Modern and Modern Trade (also known as “Boat People: Past and Present”).That evening, the Wageningen group was once more in the spotlight when Pim de Zwart won the Thirsk-Feinstein PhD dissertation prize at the annual meeting of the Economic History Society.
The conference was a success as the Wageningen group went home with two awards, good comments, a breast pocket full of new business cards and a nice tan.