1. The role of rural institutions in the access to production factors is within the rural society of NW Europe.

Acces to natural resources will especially be studied via a focus on the infuence of natural desasters on it. (organisers T. Soens , University of Antwerp and Bas van Bavel, University of Utrecht).
Many s.c. natural desasters seem to at least party human influenced and theirs influence very different from one period to an other and one area to an other. With its dense population since the High Middle Ages; its risk-prone lowland location and its wide variety of agro-systems, power and property relations, the different regions bordering the North Sea Area offer a highly attractive test-case for such comparison. The North Sea Area spans regions witnessing an early rise of capitalist farming as well as regions where non-specialized peasant subsistence farming survived until the 19th century, and a lot of agrarian economies that have developed market-dependency at a different pace and in different degrees. This research focus thus presents an ambitious effort to compare and explain structural divergences in:
- the economic and social disruption caused by disaster (the ‘agency’ of nature).
- the resilience and adaptation-capacity to environmental disaster
- the social spread of environmental risk (the so-called ‘environmental justice’)
- the development of legal instruments, institutions and policies to cope with environmental disaster.
- the role of non-rural actors and developments (the increasing influence of states and cities)
- the evolving perception of risk in rural society
2. Access to (non-human) capital (excluding nature)
Access to land and capital: The socio-economic context of openfields in the landscapes of the North Sea area (coördination E. Thoen, Ghent University)
The ‘access’ to ‘openfields’, present in almost every country of W. Europe, was specific: it is/ was intensively used land for arable farming and cultivated according to communally applied rules. They were cultivated according to the same (obliged) field system, which means that the same types of plants were cultivated in the same seasons and that the same periods of fallow needed to be respected. The openfields were ‘open landscape’ (not surrounded or separated by hedges or wide edges of trees and shrub or by stone walls). On chronologically different times these openfields disappeared in an accelerated pace from as early as the 12th century. For a long time, the origin, and nature of open field systems were specially studied by geographers. Historians were especially and almost interested in the dismantling of the system (‘enclosure movements’), although mostly not in a comparative perspective and not really explaining its existence and why it survived so long. Nowadays some scholars bring it I relation to the growing need for rural capital. Others see the system as lordly driven, the peasants being forced to follow the rules of the lord. Another group of researchers see a link with the evolution of rural techniques, namely with the common use of the ‘heavy plough’ … At the same the chronology of the system is not clear. In sum, new, comparative and multidisciplinary research which places the use of this communal system in the context of the evolving social relations and the access to land and capital is absolutely necessary. A conference and preconference is planned.
3. Access to human capital, especially science
Access to ‘human capital’: Knowledge chains in the countryside, c. 1750-2000 Coördination: Leen Van Molle en Yves Segers (K.U.Leuven – Interfacultair Centrum voor Agrarische Geschiedenis)
The production and diffusion of knowledge played, from the late 18th century onwards in an accelerated pace, a crucial role in the transformation of agriculture and countryside in the North Sea area.
Notwithstanding this increasing importance of knowledge networks, historians failed largely to investigate the specific role of agricultural science, agricultural education and other forms of training and information in the countryside. Farming families had unequal access to both locally (traditional?) and externally (modern?) generated knowledge, as well as unequal abilities to produce and acquire new knowledge via formal and informal circuits (learning by doing, education, media, etc.). Inclusion or exclusion from complex knowledge networks reinforced or changed power structures and contributed to isolated groups being marginalized or new elites being formed.
In particular, we want to unravel the development of this knowledge system in the North Sea area, in its international context, with special attention to convergences and divergences both from a geographical and chronological point of view. We want to organize two well-focused workshops and conclude with an international conference.
4. Access to labour (including family labour // demographic structures)
Access to labour resources 1200-1900 (coördination: E. Vanhaute en T. Lambrecht, both Ghent University)
Although the period 1200-1900 is seen as a period in which the importance of wage labour was largely increasing in rrural societies, the mechanism at the basis of the labour marked are hugely under studied. The opening up of labour markets did not mean that there was not a huge amount of barriers for a free labour choice. These barriers were caused by the loacally very different ‘institutional organisations’ of rural societies. These institutions we influenced by demography, technology, economics, and social cultural factors.
Two aspects will especially get attention within this cluster :
1: female labour on the country and the changes of the female labour market between 1200 and 1900
2: The child labour importance and the importance of socio-cultural factors on the labour market.
Two international workshops will be organised as well as some preparatory meetings.

2. Rural economy and Society. A new synthesis of rural history of NW Europe in four volumes

CORN Comparative Rural History of The North Sea Area