Volcano. Source: Wikipedia

Environmental Change in the Middle Ages Project Receives a Considerable Grant

How resilient were people when met with sudden and terrifying climatic changes? New project at Durham University aims to carry out groundbreaking research into the resilience – or lack thereof – in the Mediterranean Early Middle Ages

A grant from the European Research Council of more than €2 mill will enable the lead researcher, Dr Helen Foxhall Forbes, to coordinate a team to conduct ground-breaking research on how people responded to environmental and climatic change during the medieval period. The project, supported by Durham’s Institute of Advanced Study is run jointly by Dr Foxhall Forbes and  Karen Milek (Associate Professor of Geoarchaeology, Archaeology)

The Science, Society and Environmental Change project

Over the last 20-30 years, research into historical climate fluctuations has produced enough data to make possible the reasonably accurate identification of global and regional changes in climate and weather conditions in this period. In addition, more regionally or locally focused research (such as a growing number of palynological studies (pollen analyses), makes it possible to see how these changes affected the landscapes and the natural environments which people exploited and in which they lived. The study will focus specifically on how well people in this period adapted to environmental changes, and on how knowledge about environmental change was communicated.

The project seeks to explore new questions by examining in parallel both intellectual responses (e.g. through scientific, philosophical or theological inquiry) and social responses (e.g. through settlement and social organisation, material culture, technology) to the natural world, contextualised within what is known about changing environments and climate. In addition, the project aims to open up dialogue between experts in humanities, social sciences and sciences, in order to pose new questions for future research which utilises the expertise of multiple disciplines in tandem.

More precisely, the project will investigate environmental and climatic changes between 1 and 1000 CE (Common Era), including the changes caused by floods, volcanic activity, or longer periods of warming or cooling. The research team are interested in how people in Mediterranean societies responded to these changes both intellectually (for instance, in seeking scientific or theological explanations), and socially (for example, by growing new types of plants, or migrating to live in a new location).

A full list of events connected with this research project can be found here; full details of the symposium which opens the project is available here.

There will be opportunities for early-career scholars

The project will appoint three postdoctoral fellows and two PhD students. These early career scholars will join the core team of four specialists to begin the research. The roles will include archival work, field and lab research, and collaborative analysis of evidence.

Learn more about Dr Foxhall Forbes’ research
Read about our medieval research at Durham
Read about our research into environmental history


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