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Exploring the climate-society nexus with tree-ring evidence. Climate, crop yields, and hunger in medieval and early modern north-east Europe

Dissertation in the field of History

Doctoral candidate: MA Heli Huhtamaa

Date and venue: 22.9. at 12 noon, auditorium E100, Educa, Joensuu campus

Language of the public examination: English

Language of the dissertation: English

The relationship between adverse climate, crop failure, and hunger in medieval and early modern north-east Europe is commonly considered to be direct. Moreover, it is believed that crop failure and hunger events became more common with the shift to the cooler climatic regime of the Little Ice Age (LIA). Yet, lack of written sources has hindered investigation of these assumptions to date.

In order to bridge this gap, this study derives additional evidence of past climate and crop yield variability from tree-ring material. By analysing this new source material alongside written sources, it can be shown that the causality between climate and hunger was not as straightforward as previously considered. This study introduces a novel method to reconstruct past crop yield responses to climate variability from tree-ring material. In addition to indicating severe crop failure events, the reconstruction provides valuable source material for studying agricultural history at large in the region.

The results demonstrate that agricultural changes, which have previously been attested in pollen analyses and archaeological and historical studies, were connected to larger scale climatic shifts. Whereas the relationship between climate and yield variability is shown to be rather generic, the relationship between crop failures and hunger is more complex. The human consequences of bad harvests vary over space and time as well as within the peasant community, due to varying capacity to adapt to and cope with adverse climate and related yield decline. Accordingly, the results of the present study do not support the argument that hunger became inevitably more frequent with the shift to the LIA, as people’s responses to the cooling climate varied considerably across the study region.

The doctoral dissertation of MA Heli Huhtamaa, entitled Exploring the climate-society nexus with tree-ring evidence. Climate, crop yields, and hunger in medieval and early modern north-east Europe, will be examined at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies. The opponent in the public examination will be Professor Bruce Campbell (The Queen's University of Belfast), and the custos will be Professor Jukka Korpela of the University of Eastern Finland. The public examination will be held in English.

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