Geoffrey Parker is the Andreas Dorpalen Professor of European History and Associate of the Mershon Center at the Ohio State University. Adam Izdebski is an Independent Research Group Leader at the Palaeo-Science and History Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
Professor Parker is the author of Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century (Yale, 2013), and Emperor: A new life of Charles V (Yale, 2019). Dr. Izdebski is a widely published historical climatologist specializing in the Ancient to early modern Mediterranean and Eastern Europe.
Human beings are never prepared for natural disasters. Wars, pandemics, recessions and climate change always seem to come as a surprise. We prefer to live in a comfortable present than prepare for an uncertain future. Historians have a duty to address this complacency and demonstrate that it is always better – and cheaper – to prepare than to repair.
Nevertheless the impact of disasters differs: some of those affected display resilience and mostly survive whereas others collapse and sometimes perish. Do terms like “resilience” and “collapse” do justice to the experience of humans in the past: did peasants care about collapsing states? What about non-human actors? What other narrative options exist?
Can modelling causality, employing mathematics, and investigating socio-environmental interactions and mechanisms offer a way forward? What questions should we ask and answer about policy-making for today and tomorrow?