22 June 2018

Research results of ERC project COORDINATINGforLIFE

History lessons for a more resilient future

Overstroming © iStockphoto.com
Flood © iStockphoto.com

What is it that makes one society capable of dealing with a major shock like a flood or a war relatively easily, whereas in another it turns into a disaster of unparalleled magnitude that still resonates decades later? That was the central question in the research project Coordinating for life. Success and failure of Western European societies in coping with rural hazards and disasters, 1300-1800, led by Prof. Bas van Bavel. The results of this project are now published in six languages by the European Commission.

Key findings

The researchers found that while rising inequality in itself does not necessarily lead to higher vulnerability, the presence of intermediary groups is often crucial. For example village communities, water management organisations and charities have played a key role in helping societies to prevent and recover from disasters. Furthermore, the research results showed that societies became more vulnerable when rises in material inequality are not addressed by way of institutional changes. Finally the project showed that it's actually not societies being hit by disaster, but very specific groups within society. Some groups are highly vulnerable to hazards, while others have always managed to escape them.

Our work has relevance for scholars working in the natural sciences, including the fields of climate change and epidemics. A key aim has been to enrich their understanding of present risks by adding an historical perspective.

Interdisciplinary approach

The project was launched in 2014 and will be completed in 2019. Currently the researchers are working on a book History and Disasters, aimed at a wide audience of scholars, students and practitioners from all disciplines. The project combines history and historical methods with insights and expertise from economics, geography and climatology.

Prof. dr. Bas van Bavel. Foto: Ed van Rijswijk
Prof. Bas van Bavel

Bas van Bavel

Bas van Bavel is professor of Transitions of Economy and Society, and also connected to Institutions for Open Societies - an interdisciplinary research area of Utrecht University focused on the development and expansion of healthy open societies everywhere.