In our research, we are inspired by theories and insights from other sciences, such as economics, sociology, gender studies and biology. We use historical sources, ranging from personal letters to big datasets, which we collect and analyze with both quantitative and qualitative methods. Our research programme is subdivided into three different clusters: Inequality and Development, Sustainability and Environmental Change and Innovation and Institutions.

Inequality and Development

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This cluster uncovers the long-term historical development and mechanisms behind inequality between and within societies. Today, living standards are vastly unequal between households in developing and developed regions. Simultaneously, gender, class and ethnic inequalities within societies continue to exist.

How have these social and economic disparities evolved and why have they changed in some places dramatically while in others more slowly? How can we relate these historical inequalities to current debates about Just Transitions? In order to answer such questions, we chart and compare the long-term development of various world regions. We focus on the development of global trade, gender relations, migration and the economic history of colonialism.

Our research projects range from global comparative analyses to micro-studies of specific regions, households and workplaces. We explore multiple historical and gender-specific measures of wellbeing, including education, wages, religion, and demography. Combining these approaches, and employing quantitative and qualitative historical data, our research seeks to inform present-day societies to realize more equal opportunities for all. 

Sustainability and Environmental Change

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This cluster studies how changes in climate and the environment have impacted households, markets and other institutions throughout history. We investigate how institutions have responded to environmental challenges through prevention, mitigation and adaptation, taking into account major shocks and disasters as well as wars and conflicts.

What strategies did people adopt to shield their societies from the consequences of climate and environmental change in the past, and how can this inform future interventions? Were some groups more vulnerable than others to environmental change, and why? How did migration patterns, financial instruments, and government interventions both responded to and protected against climate and environmental change in the past? How effective were these responses, and why did they work well in some contexts and less so in others?

We use insights and methods from the natural, social and historical sciences. In a world facing major climate and environmental change, our research helps not only to reduce vulnerability and enhance resilience, but also encourage deep transitions to a more sustainable world.

Innovation and Institutions

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The capitalist world economy is driven by innovation. While most innovation studies are focused on technology, our approach highlights human capabilities and constraints, as well as the social dimensions of technical change. Specifically, we investigate how historical and contemporary institutions such as households, businesses, organizations, and markets maintained, adapted, or introduced products, practices, and ideas.

Our analysis includes the political, technological, and cultural environment in which innovation took place and we explore to what extent innovation led to growth, transitions, resilience, or merely survival. Our projects are thematically and geographically varied and try to understand what caused differences or similarities across diverse regions and time periods. For example, we study the success and failure of financial innovations, analyze the variables that drove the evolution of female entrepreneurship, and investigate what enabled small and large businesses to be dynamic and sustainable. In this way, we not only try to improve our understanding of innovation in the pre-modern and capitalist world economy, but also of the agency and constraints faced by ordinary people in small communities.

We aim to use this understanding of long-term historical patterns for decision-making about the future.