CFP: From Book to Field – from Field to Book. Entangled Theory and Practice in Dietetics and Agriculture (c. 1300–1600 CE)

Stephan F. Ebert's picture
Call for Papers
March 31, 2022 to April 2, 2022
Subject Fields: 
Archaeology, Cultural History / Studies, Environmental History / Studies, Intellectual History, Urban History / Studies

Man-made climate change has recently led to intense debates on agriculture, food production and consumption. Industrial agriculture and livestock farming are criticised for contributing to global warming. Alternative approaches are developing and new forms of interaction between humans and nature are emerging. Simultaneously, modern technologies and media are substantially changing ways of accessing dietetic information and methods of acquiring food. This is not an unprecedented issue in human history. In the past, times of change have triggered profound transformation processes in economic practices and consumer behaviour.

Among other factors, climatic trends since the onset of the Little Ice Age (c. 1300), the Great Famine (1315–1317) or the Black Death (1347–1352) led to changing social conditions, which had an impact on agriculture as well as pomi- and viticulture. Through humanism and the media revolution of the 15th century, classical literature was translated into vernacular languages becoming more accessible to a broader group of recipients. Culinary customs and dietetics have therefore been the subject of German Medieval Studies in the recent past. Ancient knowledge about agronomy and dietetics was not only copied, but also supplemented with relevant information about weather-related requirements and growing phases of certain plants. Via the Columbian Exchange food from the New World (e.g. maize, peppers) was introduced in the Old World and added to specialist literature such as Leonhart Fuchs' New Kreüterbuch (1543). Noble marriage alliances between families from different regions changed eating habits, which required new types of cultivation (e.g., asparagus). Due to their intellectual, economic and manorial capacities courts, cities and monasteries can be described as ‘sites of condensed knowledge’. Expertise was likely to be found at these sites and distributed from there. However, the relationship between traditional knowledge, early forms of empirical approaches and practical experience (e.g., local knowledge) needs to be discussed critically. Were these forms combined to something new or did certain forms of knowledge prevail and if so, under what conditions? We generally assume that new forms of interaction with the biophysical environment could have emerged, which can be understood as Socio-Natural Sites in the sense of the Viennese school of environmental history.

The conference would like to take a look behind these processes and interacting dynamics. The aim is to clarify questions of the appropriation and distribution of knowledge, and to discuss their effects on social change during the period of c. 1300–1600: To what extent did vernacular literature help to bring knowledge ‘from book to field’ (or vice versa) in particular and to what extent did new knowledge and new practices lead to transformations of ecosystems?

These questions shall be addressed from interdisciplinary perspectives by discussing the following subjects:

  • Crises of the Late Middle Ages: interrelation between transformation processes in food consumption and agriculture (incl. specialised cultivation)
  • Vernacular prose: reception and distribution of specialised knowledge (city, country, court)
  • Media and vernacular prose: the role of new techniques and media (letterpress, pamphlets) in circulation and the application of knowledge (especially among social groups with limited educational opportunities)
  • Biophysical and social change: the influence of weather and weather conditions on the practical implementation of specialised knowledge
  • Social and biophysical change: the influence of knowledge on the transformation of the natural environment (e.g., agriculture, land use, special crops, pond management, etc.)
  • Europe – a special path? Comparative cases through global perspectives

At the conference we want to bring together researchers from the medieval and early modern disciplines (history, German studies, archaeology, etc.), as well as geography, palaeoclimatology and palaeobotany (e.g., dendrochronology, palynology). The contributions will be published in a peer reviewed anthology after the conference. Travel and hotel expenses will be covered.

Presentations are possible in German and English. The discussion will be in English. Therefore, please present your slides in English. The event is planned to be held in attendance (in compliance with a hygiene concept) at the Unesco World Heritage Site Lorsch Abbey. However, changes may occur due to possible regulations concerning the Corona pandemic. In this case, digital and hybrid alternatives will also be planned. If you would prefer a digital participation, please state this in your abstract.

Please send abstracts of 250 words to Stephan F. Ebert ( by 31st May 2021.


Contact Info: 

Prof. Dr. Gerrit J. Schenk / Stephan F. Ebert
Technical University of Darmstadt
Institute of History/Section: History of the Middle Ages
Landwehrstr. 50a
Postal address: Dolivostr. 15
64293 Darmstadt

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