Call for participants in "The Struggle for Food: From Malthusian Tension to GMO, and Beyond (19th- 21st Centuries)", session proposal for the XVIII World Economic History Congress: Waves of Globalization, July 29 - August 3, 2018, Boston, USA

Silvia Antonia Conca's picture
Call for Papers
June 28, 2017
Massachusetts, United States
Subject Fields: 
African History / Studies, American History / Studies, Asian History / Studies, Economic History / Studies, European History / Studies

We're organising a session for the next  "XVIII World Economic History CongressWaves of Globalization" which will be held from July 29 - August 3, 2018, in BOSTON, USA.

The topic is the history of food production, supply and distribution, focusing on the role of scientific and practical innovation in the availability of food on a large scale. The title of the session will be 'The Struggle for Food: From Malthusian Tension to GMO, and Beyond (19th-21st Centuries)".

The topic area includes a wide range of aspects, therefore having a variety of perspectives, from all over the world, would be very important for us. 

We invite you to join the proposed session.

If you're interested in presenting a paper, please contact the panel organiser sending a brief CV, your contact details, the title and the abstract (200 words) of your presentation ( Acceptance will be notified by 29 June 2017.

Should the proposal be approved, a Pre-session will be held on: 22-23 February, Milan, Italy ( 'La Statale' University of Milan)  

Here you can find our session proposal:

Session Proposal:

The Struggle for Food: From Malthusian Tension to GMO, and Beyond (19th- 21st Centuries)


By 1800 Europe faced the challenge of producing enough basic food to avoid Malthusian tension. As international trade in foodstuffs was still relatively limited - due to protectionist measures and high transport costs - local harvest failures led to price rises and, at times, subsistence crises.

Population pressure gave rise to several improvements in the agricultural sector: better techniques, tools, rotation systems, new crops and better selection of high-quality seeds and plants. In addition, from the 1860s onwards, substantial changes occurred: the transport revolution and the huge growth in international trade and globalisation; technical and scientific innovation in food processing, conservation and packaging; the shift from hand-made to industrial food production, which tended to make increased use of scientific knowledge, especially chemistry. Military necessities also played a role in the origins of many innovations in the food industry: e.g., world-wide colonial wars and WWI. An expanding trade network connected many areas in Western Europe, the US, the Americas, Africa and Asia, in a complex core-periphery order.

In the post-World War II period, when globalisation restarted, the international food system was generally linked to mass production and was based on cheap commodities. Further integration of European markets, through the European Economic Community, was underway, while an increasing number of large multinationals expanded their supply chains and sales markets internationally. New changes began following the breakdown of the Bretton Wood system, particularly from the 1980s onwards: from the mid-1990s a new global food order seems to have appeared, based on growing retail power, restructured international agro-food supply chains, a growing concentration and financialisation of the sector and an emerging interest in the freshness and naturalness of food.

However, this significant and long transformation did not lead to an equal distribution of food, in terms of both the balance of vitamins, proteins and minerals, as well as the sufficiency of calorie intake. Malnutrition or hunger was a reality for a significant part of 19th century and the first half of 20th century working classes and peasants in Europe, and continued to be tangible in many areas of the globe, so that the history of the 20th century still was, for millions of people, a history of hunger.

This panel aims to reexamine the history of food production, processing and trade from a global perspective, focusing on the effective role of scientific and practical innovation in the availability of food on a large scale. The primary goal of the panel is to allow scholars to consider whether, and to what extent, the food industry and innovation contributed to defeating the struggle for food in some parts of the globe, while many others, by contrast, remained under ‘Malthusian tension’. How did global waves influence the process? Is the increasing movement of goods and technology beneficial to all economies? Are industry and science enough to address the struggle for food? Or do people need many more interventions – e.g. political economy, income reinforcement or redistribution, trade agreements, institutions, support to local producers - to overcome the problem?


Silvia A. Conca Messina, ‘La Statale’ University of Milan,

Session members

Franco Amatori, Bocconi University; Claudio Besana, Catholic University of Milan; Silvia A. Conca Messina, ‘La Statale’ University of Milan; Rita d’Errico, Roma Tre University



Contact Info: 
Assistant Professor in Economic History

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University of Milan             
Department of Historical Studies
Via Festa del Perdono, 7

I - 20122 Milano
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Via Livorno, 1 (room 222)                                                                                                       
tel. +39 02 503 18929 

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