Food security in early modern England

Food security in early modern England

University of Exeter

Researchers: Ayesha Mukherjee and Nicola Whyte

Funder: AHRC

A partnership between the University of Exeter, English Heritage and the Peninsula Partnership for the Rural Environment is looking at what we can learn from historical food crises.

The AHRC funded research network project, lead by Ayesha Mukherjee and Nicola Whyte explores ideas about food security in early modern England (c.1500-1800) and investigates England’s first debates about resource management.

Ayesha’s research on dearth in 16th and 17th century England considers how famines influenced the ethical understanding of resource management at the time. Dearth also shaped processes of scientific investigation, the making and circulation of knowledge within households and communities, and an early understanding of sustainability, which Mukherjee terms ‘dearth science’ in its own moment.

This network brings a humanities perspective to food security, examining links between the production, processing and consumption of food, land ownership, agriculture, and the effects of enclosure, cultural appreciations of woodland, and debates about the sustainability of natural resources. Using the crisis of resources in this historical moment as a starting point, they are investigating what we might learn from this past, and providing a wider ethical context for the question of food security.

A number of events have drawn participants from many external institutions. Two workshops, Sustainable Households and Sustainable Futures, focused on the early modern period, and another public workshop addressed these themes in the Cornish context.

A conference on Environment and Identity further expanded the network’s scope by uniting scholars interested in different time periods and subjects, integrating contemporary responses to dearth and climate change into historical narratives.