Climate, Weather, Agriculture, and Food

  • Sam White
  • John Brooke
  • Christian Pfister


Climate and weather are vital factors in food production, principally through their influence on the possibilities, limits, and risks of farming and pastoralism. Nevertheless, the historical links among climate, weather, agriculture, and food are often complex and contingent. This chapter reviews the growing body of research on these links, from the first domestication of plants and animals to the modern era, with emphasis on the contributions of climate history to explaining food shortages, famines, and related disasters in Little Ice Age Europe.


  1. Abbo, S. et al. “Agricultural Origins: Centers and Noncenters; A Near Eastern Reappraisal.” Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences 29 (2010): 317–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Abel, Wilhelm. Massenarmut und Hungerkrisen im vorindustriellen Europa: Versuch einer Synopsis. Hamburg: Parey, 1974.Google Scholar
  3. Anderson, David et al. Climate Change and Cultural Dynamics: A Global Perspective on Mid-Holocene Transitions. London: Elsevier, 2007.Google Scholar
  4. Appleby, Andrew. Famine in Tudor and Stuart England. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1978.Google Scholar
  5. Arakawa, H. “Meteorological Conditions of the Great Famines in the Last Half of the Tokugawa Period, Japan.” Papers in Meteorology and Geophysics 6 (1955): 101–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barker, Graeme. The Agricultural Revolution in Prehistory: Why Did Foragers Become Farmers? Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.Google Scholar
  7. Barlow, L.K. et al. “Interdisciplinary Investigations of the End of the Norse Western Settlement in Greenland.” The Holocene 7 (1997): 489–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Barton, Loukas et al. “Agricultural Origins and the Isotopic Identity of Domestication in Northern China.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106 (2009): 5523–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bauerenfeind, Walter, and Ulrich Woitek. “The Influence of Climatic Change on Price Fluctuations in Germany during the Sixteenth Century Price Revolution.” Climatic Change 43 (1999): 303–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Behringer, W. “Die Krise von 1570. Ein Beitrag zur Krisengeschichte der Neuzeit.” In Um Himmels Willen: Religion in Krisenzeiten, edited by M. Jakubowski-Tiessen and H. Lehmann, 58–136. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2003.Google Scholar
  11. Bellwood, Peter. First Farmers: The Origins of Agricultural Societies. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2004.Google Scholar
  12. Benson, Larry et al. “Anasazi (Pre-Columbian Native-American) Migrations during the Middle-12th and Late-13th Centuries – Were They Drought Induced?” Climatic Change 83 (2007): 187–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Brook, Timothy. The Troubled Empire: China in the Yuan and Ming Dynasties. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Buckley, Brendan M. et al. “Climate as a Contributing Factor in the Demise of Angkor, Cambodia.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107 (2010): 6748–52.Google Scholar
  15. Buckley, Brendan M. et al. “Monsoon Extremes and Society over the Past Millennium on Mainland Southeast Asia.” Quaternary Science Reviews 95 (2014): 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Bulliett, Richard. Cotton, Climate and Camels in Early Islamic Iran: A Moment in World History. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.Google Scholar
  17. Butzer, Karl. “Environmental Change in the Near East and Human Impact on the Land.” In Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, edited by Jack M. Sasson et al., 123–51. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995.Google Scholar
  18. Champion, Maurice. Les inondations en France depuis le VIe siècle jusqu’à nos jours. Paris: V. Dalmont, 1863.Google Scholar
  19. Clark, Gregory. “The Long March of History: Farm Wages, Population, and Economic Growth, England 1209–1869.” The Economic History Review 60 (2007): 97–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Cline, Eric H. 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Cook, Benjamin I. et al. “The Worst North American Drought Year of the Last Millennium: 1934.” Geophysical Research Letters 41 (2014): 7298–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Crawford, G.W. “Agricultural Origins in North China Pushed Back to the Pleistocene-Holocene Boundary.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106 (2009): 7271–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Cunfer, Greg. The Great Plains: Agriculture and Environment. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2005.Google Scholar
  24. Dalfes, H. et al. Third Millennium B.C. Climate Change and Old World Collapse. Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1997.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Danti, Michael D. “Late Middle Holocene Climate and Northern Mesopotamia: Varying Cultural Responses to the 5.2 and 4.2 Ka Aridification Events.” In Climate Crises in Human History, edited by A. Bruce Mainwaring, Robert Francis Giegengack, and Claudio Vita-Finzi, 139–72. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2010.Google Scholar
  26. Davis, Ralph. The Rise of the Atlantic Economies. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1973.Google Scholar
  27. Diamond, Jared M. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Viking, 2005.Google Scholar
  28. Dodgshon, Robert A. “The Little Ice Age in the Scottish Highlands and Islands: Documenting Its Human Impact.” Scottish Geographical Journal 121 (2005): 321–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Dugmore, Andrew J. et al. “Cultural Adaptation, Compounding Vulnerabilities and Conjunctures in Norse Greenland.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109 (2012): 3658–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Dybdahl, Audun. “Climate and Demographic Crises in Norway in Medieval and Early Modern Times.” The Holocene 22 (2012): 1159–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Fang, Jin-Qi, and Guo Liu. “Relationship between Climatic Change and the Nomadic Southward Migrations in Eastern Asia during Historical Times.” Climatic Change 22 (1992): 151–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Fuller, Dorian et al. “The Contribution of Rice Agriculture and Livestock Pastoralism to Prehistoric Methane Levels: An Archaeological Assessment.” The Holocene 21 (2011): 743–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Fuller, Dorian et al. “Cultivation as Slow Evolutionary Entanglement: Comparative Data on Rate and Sequence of Domestication.” Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 21 (2012): 131–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Gerhart, L.M., and J.K. Ward. “Plant Responses to Low (CO2) of the Past.” The New Phytologist 188 (2010): 674–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gissel, S. et al. Desertion and Land Colonization in the Nordic Countries c.1300–1600: Comparative Report from the Scandinavian Research Project on Deserted Farms and Villages. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1981.Google Scholar
  36. Glantz, Michael H., ed. Drought Follows the Plow: Cultivating Marginal Areas. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.Google Scholar
  37. Glaser, Rüdiger. Klimageschichte Mitteleuropas: 1200 Jahre Wetter, Klima, Katastrophen. 3rd ed. Darmstadt: Wiss. Buchges, 2013.Google Scholar
  38. Goring-Morris, Nigel, and Anna Belfer-Cohen. “The Articulation of Cultural Processes and Late Quaternary Environmental Changes in Cisjordan.” Paléorient 23 (1997): 71–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Gross, Briana L., and Zhijun Zhao. “Archaeological and Genetic Insights into the Origins of Domesticated Rice.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111 (2014): 6190–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Haldon, John et al. “The Climate and Environment of Byzantine Anatolia: Integrating Science, History, and Archaeology.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 45 (2014): 113–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Hole, Frank. “Environmental Instabilities and Urban Origins.” In Chiefdoms and Early States in the Near East: The Organizational Dynamics of Complexity, edited by Gil Stein and Mitchell S. Rothman, 121–51. Madison, WI: Prehistory Press, 1994.Google Scholar
  42. Holopainen, Jari, and Samuli Helama. “Little Ice Age Farming in Finland: Preindustrial Agriculture on the Edge of the Grim Reaper’s Scythe.” Human Ecology 37 (2009): 213–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Hoyle, R.W. “Famine as Agricultural Catastrophe: The Crisis of 1622–4 in East Lancashire.” The Economic History Review 63 (2010): 974–1002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Iannone, Gyles, ed. The Great Maya Droughts in Cultural Context: Case Studies in Resilience and Vulnerability. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2014.Google Scholar
  45. Kaniewski, David et al. “Drought and Societal Collapse 3200 Years Ago in the Eastern Mediterranean: A Review.” Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 6 (2015): 369–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Krämer, Daniel. “Menschen grasten nun mit dem Vieh”: die letzte grosse Hungerkrise der Schweiz 1816/17. Basel: Schwabe, 2015.Google Scholar
  47. Krämer, Daniel et al. “Woche für Woche neue Preisaufschläge”: Nahrungsmittel-, Energie- und Ressourcenkonflikte in der Schweiz des Ersten Weltkrieges. Basel: Schwabe, 2016.Google Scholar
  48. Kuijt, Ian, and Nigel Goring-Morris. “Foraging, Farming, and Social Complexity in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic in the Southern Levant: A Review and Synthesis.” Journal of World Prehistory 16 (2002): 361–440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Lachiver, Marcel. Les années de misère: La famine au temps du Grand Roi, 1680–1720. Paris: Fayard, 1991.Google Scholar
  50. Landsteiner, Erich. “The Crisis of Wine Production in Late Sixteenth-Century Central Europe: Climatic Causes and Economic Consequences.” Climatic Change 43 (1999): 323–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Lappalainen, Mirkka. “Death and Disease During the Great Finnish Famine 1695–1697.” Scandinavian Journal of History 39 (2014): 425–47.Google Scholar
  52. Larson, Greger, and Dorian Q. Fuller. “The Evolution of Animal Domestication.” Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 45 (2014): 115–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Larson, G. et al. “Current Perspectives and the Future of Domestication Studies.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111 (2014): 6139–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel. The Peasants of Languedoc. Translated by J. Day. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1974.Google Scholar
  55. Liu, Li. The Chinese Neolithic: Trajectories to Early States. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.Google Scholar
  56. Lu, H. et al. “Phytoliths Analysis for the Discrimination of Foxtail Millet (Setaria Italica) and Common Millet.” PLoS One 4 (2009): e4448.Google Scholar
  57. Marshall, Fiona, and Elisabeth Hildebrand. “Cattle before Crops: The Beginnings of Food Production in Africa.” Journal of World Prehistory 16 (2002): 99–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Mauelshagen, Franz Matthias. Klimageschichte der Neuzeit, 1500–1900. Darmstadt: Darmstadt Wiss. Buchges, 2010.Google Scholar
  59. Miskimin, H.A. The Economy of Later Renaissance Europe, 1460–1600. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.Google Scholar
  60. Mithen, S.J. After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000–5000 BC. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004.Google Scholar
  61. Monahan, W. Gregory. Year of Sorrows: The Great Famine of 1709 in Lyon. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1993.Google Scholar
  62. Munro, Natalie. “Zooarchaeological Measures of Hunting Pressure and Occupation Intensity in the Natufian.” Current Anthropology 45 (2004): S5–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Nesbit, M. “When and Where Did Domesticated Cereals First Occur in Southwest Asia.” In The Dawn of Farming in the Near East, edited by R.T.J. Cappers and S. Bottema, 113–32. Berlin: Ex Oriente, 2002.Google Scholar
  64. Newfield, Timothy P. “Domesticates, Disease and Climate in Early Post-Classical Europe: The Cattle Plague of c.940 and Its Environmental Context.” Post-Classical Archaeologies 5 (2015): 95–126.Google Scholar
  65. Nicoll, K. “Recent Environmental Change and Prehistoric Human Activity in Egypt and Northern Sudan.” Quaternary Science Reviews 23 (2004): 561–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Nikola, K., and B. Joerg. “The Biological Standard of Living in Europe during the Last Two Millennia.” European Review of Economic History 9 (2005): 61–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Ó Gráda, Cormac. Famine: A Short History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.Google Scholar
  68. Parker, Geoffrey. Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013.Google Scholar
  69. Parry, M.L. Climate Change, Agriculture and Settlement. Folkstone: Dawson, 1978.Google Scholar
  70. Pederson, Neil et al. “Pluvials, Droughts, the Mongol Empire, and Modern Mongolia.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111 (2014): 4375–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Pfister, Christian. Das Klima der Schweiz von 1525–1860 und seine Bedeutung in der Geschichte von Bevölkerung und Landwirtschaft. Bern: Paul Haupt, 1984.Google Scholar
  72. Pfister, Christian. “Fluctuations climatiques et prix céréaliers en Europe du XVIe au XXe siècle.” Annales (1988): 25–53.Google Scholar
  73. Pfister, Christian. Wetternachhersage: 500 Jahre Klimavariationen und Naturkatastrophen (1496–1995). Bern: Paul Haupt, 1999.Google Scholar
  74. Pfister, Christian. “Weeping in the Snow: The Second Period of Little Ice Age-Type Impacts, 1570–1630.” In Kulturelle Konsequenzen der Kleine Eiszeit, edited by Wolfgang Behringer, Hartmut Lehmann, and Christian Pfister, 31–86. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2005.Google Scholar
  75. Pfister, Christian. “The Monster Swallows You”: Disaster Memory and Risk Culture in Western Europe, 1500–2000. Rachel Carson Center Perspectives 2011/1. Munich: Rachel Carson Center, 2011.Google Scholar
  76. Pfister, Christian. “Renward Cysat – Ein ‘interdisziplinärer’ Pionier der Klimaforschung im Alpenraum.” Der Geschichtsfreund 166 (2013): 187–208.Google Scholar
  77. Pfister, Christian. “Weather, Climate and the Environment.” In The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern European History, 1350–1750, edited by S. Hamish. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.Google Scholar
  78. Phelps-Brown, E.H., and S.V. Hopkins. “Wage-Rates and Prices: Evidence for Population Pressure in the Sixteenth Century.” Economica 24 (1957): 289–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Piperno, D.R. “The Origins of Plant Cultivation and Domestication in the New World Tropics: Patterns, Process, and New Developments.” Current Anthropology 52 (2011): S453–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Porter, John R. et al. “Food Security and Food Production Systems.” In Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, edited by Pramod Aggarwal, 2014.Google Scholar
  81. Post, John. Food Shortage, Climatic Variability, and Epidemic Disease in Preindustrial Europe. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985.Google Scholar
  82. Price, T.D., and O. Bar-Yosef. “The Origins of Agriculture: New Data, New Ideas: An Introduction to Supplement 4.” Current Anthropology 52 (2011): S163–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Richerson, Peter J. et al. “Was Agriculture Impossible during the Pleistocene but Mandatory during the Holocene? A Climate Change Hypothesis.” American Antiquity 66 (2001): 387–411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Rosen, Arlene Miller. Civilizing Climate: Social Responses to Climate Change in the Ancient Near East. Lanham, MD: Altamira Press, 2007.Google Scholar
  85. Rosenwig, R.M. “A Mosaic of Adaptation: The Archaeological Record for Mesoamerica’s Archaic Period.” Journal of Archaeological Research 23 (2015): 115–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Sage, Rowan. “Was Low Atmospheric CO2 during the Pleistocene a Limiting Factor for the Origins of Agriculture?” Global Change Biology 1 (1995): 93–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Sen, Amartya Kumar. Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981.Google Scholar
  88. Simmons, Alan. The Neolithic Revolution in the Near East: Transforming the Human Landscape. Tuscon: University of Arizona Press, 2007.Google Scholar
  89. Skipp, V.H.T. Crisis and Development: An Ecological Case Study of the Forest of Arden, 1570–1674. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978.Google Scholar
  90. Smith, Bruce. “Low-Level Food Production.” Journal of Archaeological Research 9 (2001): 1–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Stiner, Mary et al. “Paleolithic Population Growth Pulses Evidenced by Small Animal Exploitation.” Science 283 (1999): 190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Studer, R. The Great Divergence Reconsidered: Europe, India, and the Rise to Global Economic Power. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Tauger, Mark. “Entitlement, Shortage and the 1943 Bengal Famine: Another Look.” The Journal of Peasant Studies 31 (2003): 45–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Totman, Conrad. Early Modern Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.Google Scholar
  95. Turner, B.L., and Jeremy A. Sabloff. “Classic Period Collapse of the Central Maya Lowlands: Insights about Human–Environment Relationships for Sustainability.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109 (2012): 13908–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Weiss, Harvey et al. “The Genesis and Collapse of Third Millennium North Mesopotamian Civilization.” Science 261 (1993): 995–1004.Google Scholar
  97. Weninger, Bernhard et al. “The Impact of Rapid Climate Change on Prehistoric Societies during the Holocene in the Eastern Mediterranean.” Documenta Praehistorica 36 (2009): 7–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. White, Sam. The Climate of Rebellion in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. White, Sam. “Animals, Climate, and History.” Environmental History 19 (2014): 319–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  100. Xoplaki, Elena et al. “The Medieval Climate Anomaly and Byzantium: A Review of the Evidence on Climatic Fluctuations, Economic Performance and Societal Change.” Quaternary Science Reviews 136 (2016): 229–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  101. Yin, Jun et al. “Relationships between Temperature Change and Grain Harvest Fluctuations in China from 210 BC to 1910 AD.” Quaternary International 355 (2015): 153–63.Google Scholar
  102. Zeder, Melinda. “The Origins of Agriculture in the Near East.” Current Anthropology 52 (2011): S221–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  103. Zhang, Zhibin et al. “Periodic Climate Cooling Enhanced Natural Disasters and Wars in China during AD 10–1900.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 277 (2010): 3745–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sam White
    • 1
  • John Brooke
    • 1
  • Christian Pfister
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of HistoryOhio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  2. 2.Institute of History, Oeschger Centre for Climate ChangeBernSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations