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Population, economy and welfare, c. 1200-2000: a conference in honour of Richard M. Smith

A conference held at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, 16-18 September 2011

Generously supported by the George Macaulay Trevelyan and Ellen McArthur Funds, Faculty of History, University of Cambridge, the Economic History Society and the Centre for History and Economics

The primary purpose of this conference was to recognise and celebrate the scholarly achievements of Professor Richard M. Smith FBA, who retired from his chair in Historical Geography and Demography in the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, at the end of 2010. Richard is an unusually influential and well-known historian and geographer whose work over the past four decades has straddled a striking (and intimidating) number of fields and topics within economic and social history, historical demography, and the history of medicine. In particular, he has emphasised the wider economic, social and cultural significance of divergent patterns of family formation and inheritance practices within historic Europe. In recent years, Richard has increasingly turned his attention to the demographic, economic and epidemiological implications of the English Old Poor Law and has also begun to re-examine the long-run history of English mortality decline.

The exceptionally broad chronological and thematic range of Richard's interests is reflected in the conference's title. The wider importance of this conference is that it seeks to express what may be called the Richard Smith approach to the past: the pursuit of large questions in economic history, undertaken without fear of moving beyond a narrow scholarly specialism, but with as much sensitivity as possible to the limitations of the sources which we depend upon to answer those questions. The conference papers are not artificially constrained by historical period, or by a focus on particular sources. Contributors have been encouraged to contribute new papers which develop existing themes in Richard's work. The conference was notable and important in that it provided a valuable opportunity for younger scholars and more established academics to work together to identify new research questions and fresh methods for tackling existing problems.


The full programme is available.

Papers are published online.

Bookings and venue

The conference venue was the Auditorium, Fitzwilliam College.

Conference organisers

  • Dr Chris Briggs, University of Southampton
  • Dr Peter Kitson, University of Cambridge
  • Dr Stephen Thompson, University of Cambridge