skip to primary navigation skip to content

Richard M. Smith BA, MA, PhD, FBA

Richard M. Smith BA, MA, PhD, FBA

Emeritus Professor of Historical Geography and Demography and Fellow of Downing College

Historical Demographer and Historical Population Geographer, working on the history of marriage patterns in medieval and early modern Europe, the long-term development of mortality patterns in England and Europe and the impact of welfare practices on demographic and economic behaviour .



  • 1973-1974 : Plymouth Polytechnic
  • 1974-1983: University of Cambridge
  • 1983-1994: University of Oxford
  • 1994-present: University of Cambridge
  • Head of Department, Department of Geography 2007-2010
  • Voluntary Director of Research 2011-2020


  • BA University College London
  • MA University of Oxford
  • PhD University of Cambridge


Richard Smith's earliest research was on medieval English peasant inheritance practices and their impact on property exchanges and social and kinship networks. Subsequently his Interests extended to consider the problems of the use of manorial court rolls and taxation records for the analysis of medieval marriage patterns and practices.

His research while Director of the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medidicne in the University of Oxford considered the interface between historical demography and the social history of medicine with a particular reference to the history of ageing and the structure of wealth flows within the family to and from the elderly as well as the significance of support systems for the elderly that were based on non-familial exchanges within communities.

More recently he has concentrated his research on the English Old Poor Law with a view to assessing its impact on infant and child mortality, susceptibility of communities to mortality crises associated with high food prices and labour mobility. The latter interests also overlap with an attempt to consider long-term changes in adult life expectancy (post-1300) with particular reference to the emergence of large urban centres and the role they played after 1650 as epidemiological drivers, particularly regarding exposure to infections and the development of immunities to infectious disease among adults. He continues to have an interest in the use of taxation records to assess late medieval population size and occupational structure in England.

He recentlt held (ending in 2020) a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award to research into epidemiologial change within the English urban system 1600-1945


Selected publications

  • Smith R.M. (2020) 'Roger Schofield as Historian and Demographer: An Appreciation', Local Population Studies 105 pp. 6-31
  • Smith R.M. and Wrigley, E.A. (2020) 'Malthus and Welfare Revisited', Historical Journal vol. 63 pp. 33-62
  • Smith, R.M. and Davenport R.J. (2019) 'Cholera, water quality and public health in early Victorian cities', Open Access Government (April))
  • Smith, R.M. and Davenport R.J. (2019) 'Epidemiological interactions between rural and urban populations and the consequences of urbanisation' Open Access Government (January)
  • Smith, R.M. (2018) 'Fertility characteristics of household formation systems' in N. Hopwood, L. Kassell and R. Flemming (eds.) Reproduction: From Antiquity to the Present Day (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge), pp. 347-36
  • Smith, R.M. and Satchell, M. (2018) 'Malthus, Poverty and Population Change in Suffolk, 1780-1834', Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, vol. 44, pp. 256-271
  • Smith, R.M. and Davenport, R.J. (2018) Migration, mortality and medicalisation: investigating the long-run epidemiological consequences of urbanisation 1600-1945'Impaxt@ Connecting Global Research, 2 pp. 60-62
  • Smith, R.M. (2018) 'Some Emerging Issue in the Demography of Medieval England and Prospects for their Future Investigation' Local Population Studies, vol. 100, pp. 13-24
  • Smith,R.M (2018) 'Fertility characteristics of household formation systems', in N. Hopwood, L. Kassell and R. Fleming (eds) Reproduction: From antiquity to the present day Cambridge University Press, pp. 347-70
  • Smith, R.M. (2017)'Contrasting Susceptibility to famine in the early fourteenth- and late sixteenth-century: the significance of the late medieval social structural and village governmental changes' in M. Braddick and P. Withington (eds) Popular Culture and Political Agency in Early Modern England and Ireland, The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, pp. 35-54.
  • Smith, R.M. (2015) 'Dearth and Local Political Responses: 1280-1325 and 1580-1596/7 compared in M. Kowaleski, J. Langdon and P.R. Schofield (eds) Peasants and Lords in the Medieval English Economy, Turnhout, Belgium, Brepols, 377-406
  • Smith, R.M. (2012) 'Measuring adult mortality in an age of plague' in M. Bailey and S Rigby (eds) Town and Countryside in the Age of the Black Death, Turnhout Beligium, Brepols, 43-85
  • Smith, R.M., Poos, L.R and Oeppen, J. (2012) 'Re-assessing Josiah Russell's measurements of late medieval mortality using Inquisitions Post Mortem', in M. Hicks (ed) The Fifteenth-Century Inquisitions Post Mortem: Source, Process and Potential, Woodbridge, Boydell and Brewer, 152-181
  • Smith, R.M. (2011) 'Social security as a development institution? The relative efficacy of poor relief provisions under the English Old Poor' in C.A. Bayly, M. Woolcock, S.Szreter and V. Rhao (eds) History and Development Policy Manchester, Manchester University Press, 75-102
  • Smith, R.M., Harding V., Baker, P., Davies, M., Nerry, M.,and Newton G., (2008) People in Place: Families, Households and Housing in Early Modern London, London, Centre for Metropolitan History, 36pp.
  • Smith, R.M. (2007) 'Periods, structures and regions in early modern demographic regimes' History Workshop Journal Spring, 2007, 53-79
  • Smith, R.M. and Oeppen, J., (2007) 'Place and status as determinants of infant mortality in England c. 1550-1837' in E. Garrett, C. Galley, N. Shelton and R. Woods (eds) 'Place and status as determinants of infant mortality in England c. 1550-1837' Aldershot, Ashgate Publishers, 53-79
  • Smith, R.M., (2007) 'Moving to Marry among the customary tenants of late thirteenth and early fourteenth-century England' in P. Horden (ed) Freedom of Movement in the Middle Ages, Stamford, Tyas and Watkins Publishers, 22-40
  • Smith, R.M.,(2006) 'Geographers, Annaliste Historians and the roots and divergent pathways of English and French Historical Demography' in A. Gonzalez (ed) Histories and Historiographies: Post-War European Pathways, Pamplona, EUNSA, 167-186
  • Smith, R.M and Solar, P. (2003) 'An Old Poor Law for the New Europe? Reconciling Local Solidarity with Labour Mobility in Early Modern England', in P.A. David and M. Thomas (eds) The Economic Future in Historic Perspective. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 463-477.
  • Smith, R.M. (2001), 'Welfare of the Individual and the Group: Malthus and Externalities', Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 145 , pp. 402-414
  • Smith, R.M. (2001), 'Plagues and Peoples: The long demographic cycle 1250-1670.' in: P. Slack (ed.) The Peopling of Britain. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 177-209
  • Smith, R.M. (2000), 'Relative prices, forms of agrarian labour and female marriage patterns in England, 1350-1800.' in: J. Devos and L. Kennedy (eds.) Marriage and rural economy: Westerm Europe since 1400. Brussels, Brepols, 19-48
  • Smith, R.M. (1998), 'Ageing and well-being in early modern England: pension trends and gender preferences under the English Old Poor Law c. 1650-1800.' in: P. Johnson and P. Thane (eds) Old Age from antiquity to post-modernity. London, Routledge, 64-95

External activities

  • Chair Records of Social and Economic History Committee (British Academy 2010-2018)
  • President of the Economic History Society 2007-2010
  • Honorary Vice-President Economic History Society 2010-
  • Trustee Isaac Newton Trust 2013-