Adaptation and Resilience to Droughts: Historical Perspectives in Europe and beyond

Sécheresse Rhin à MonheimRhine drought in Monheim (

 On 1st and 2nd of June 2017 a symposium on "Adaptation and Resilience to Droughts: Historical Perspectives in Europe and beyond" will be held at the University of Strasbourg. This event, organized by LIVE (Institute of Imagery, City and the Environment) aims at enhancing knowledge on historical droughts in Europe and beyond, in view of improving adaptation to future droughts.

Conference Programme

Droughts Conference Programme in pdf

Adaptation and Resilience to Droughts: Historical Perspectives in Europe and beyond
University of Strasbourg (France), June 1-2, 2017
Day 1 – Thursday, 1st June 2017

08:30     Registration and Coffee

09:00     Welcome

Catherine Florentz (First Vice-President and Vice-President for Research and Education, University of Strasbourg)

Dominique Badariotti (Director of LIVE, CNRS, University of Strasbourg)

09:15     Opening

Carmen de Jong (University of Strasbourg, France)

Session 1: Narrative Sources for Reconstructing Droughts (Chair: Emmanuel Garnier, tbc)

09:30     Keynote 1: Outstanding droughts in the past – nightmare visions of Global Warming

Christian Pfister (University of Bern, Switzerland)

10:00     Famine and Drought in Jeremiah 14* and Joel 1-2* and their reception in 17th century Europe

Sara Kipfer (University of Bern, Switzerland)

10:20     For a history of drought phenomena in Calabria between the Middle Ages and the modern age: the contribution of ecclesiastical and hagiographical sources

Massimo Bidotti (University of Calabria, Italy)

10:40     Drought in Late Medieval England. Its impact on agriculture and its role in the formation of major plague waves

Kathleen Pribyl (University of East Anglia, United Kingdom)

11:00 – 11:20   Coffee Break

Session 2: Narrative Sources for Reconstructing Droughts (Chair: Sara Kipfer)

11:20     1473: Three Seasons of Heat and Drought in Europe

Chantal Camenisch (University of Bern, Switzerland)

11:40     Droughts in the Czech Lands from AD 1501

Rudolf Brázdil (Czech Academy of Sciences and Masaryk University, Czech Republic) Miroslav Trnka (Czech Academy of Sciences and Mendel University, Czech Republic)

Petr Dobrovolný (Czech Academy of Sciences and Masaryk University, Czech Republic)

Ladislava Řezníčková (Czech Academy of Sciences and Masaryk University, Czech Republic)

Oldřich Kotyza (Regional Museum, Litoměřice, Czech Republic)

Hubert Valášek (Masaryk University, Czech Republic)

12:00     “The season has been an unusually dry one”: perspectives on 19th century drought in southern Africa in different historical source types

David J. Nash (University of Brighton, United Kingdom)
Georgina H. Endfield (University of Liverpool, United Kingdom)
Kathleen Pribyl (University of Brighton, United Kingdom)

Jørgen Klein (Hedmark University College, Norway)
Stefan W. Grab (University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa)
George C.D. Adamson (King's College London, United Kingdom)

12:20     18th century droughts in Portugal

Marcelo Fragoso (University of Lisboa, Portugal)
Maria de Garcia Dias Carraça (University of Lisboa and University of Évora, Portugal)Maria João Alcoforado (University of Lisboa, Portugal)

12:40     The weather behind the words. New methodologies for integrated analysis of drought over the long run

Salvador Gil-Guirado (University of Murcia, Spain)
Jose Antonio Espín-Sanchez(Yale University, USA)
Mariano Barriendos (Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain)

13:00 – 14:00 Lunch Break

Session 3: Narrative Sources for Reconstructing Droughts (Chair: Kathleen Pribyl)

14:00     Low waters, a complex indicator for climate history. Material and methods for evaluating the man-induced component of water shortages (late 18th - early 20th century)

Nicolas Jacob-Rousseau (University of Lyon 2, France)
Oldrich Navratil (University of Lyon 2, France)
Éric Sauquet (IRSTEA, Villeurbanne, France)
Jean-Philippe Vidal (IRSTEA, Villeurbanne, France)

14:20     Old and new drought classification methodologies in the Iberian Peninsula (16th-20th centuries)

Mariano Barriendos (University of Barcelona, Spain)
Salvador Gil Guirado (University of Murcia, Spain)

14:40     Comparative views on the North American Dust Bowl during the 1930’s

Martine Tabeaud (University of Paris Panthéon Sorbonne, France)

Alexis Metzger (University of Strasbourg, France)

15:00     Droughts in historical times in Polish territory

Danuta Limanowka (Institute of Meteorology and Water Management - National Research InstitutePaństwowy Instytut Badawczy, Poland)

Radoslaw Doktor (Institute of Meteorology and Water Management - National Research InstitutePaństwowy Instytut Badawczy, Poland)

15:20 - 15:50 Coffee break

Session 4: Past Variability of Droughts (Chair: Chantal Camenisch)

15:50     Keynote 2: “DRIeR - Drought reconstructions, impacts, processes and resilience since 1500 for the German Southwest

Rüdiger Glaser (University of Freiburg, Germany)
Iso Himmelsbach (University of Freiburg, Germany)
Annette Bösmeier (University of Freiburg, Germany)

16:20     Meteorological approach for some warm and dry years of the first half of the 19th century

Nicolas Jacob-Rousseau (University of Lyon 2, France)

16:40     Short-term fluctuations of periods with consecutive dry days in the context of centennial variability in the Eastern Carpathians foreland

Dariia Kholiavchuk (Yurii Fedkovych Chernivtsi National University, Ukraine)

17:00     Ensemble reconstruction of spatio-temporal extreme low-flow events in France since 1871

Laurie Caillouet (IRSTEA, Villeurbanne, France)
Jean-Philippe Vidal (IRSTEA, Villeurbanne, France)
Eric Sauquet (IRSTEA, Villeurbanne, France)
Alexandre Devers (IRSTEA, Villeurbanne, France )
Benjamin Graff (Compagnie Nationale du Rhône (CNR), Lyon, France).

17:20-17:45 Discussion
19:00     Guided Tour through City of Strasbourg
20:00     Joint Dinner in the historic centre of Strasbourg (at own costs)
 Day 2 – FRIDAY 2nd June 2017
  08:30 - 9:00 Coffee

Session 5: Past Variability of Droughts. Special Session (Great East Region, France)
(Chair: Nicolas Jacob-Rousseau, tbc)

9:00       Variability and spatial extent of drought(s) at the beginning of Antiquity in North-East France. Contribution of soil archives to scarce narrative data.

Anne Gebhardt (University of Strasbourg, INRAP Grand Est, France)
Vincent Robin (University of Lorraine, France)

9:20       Droughts and low flows in the Mosel river catchment since the middle of the 19th century

Claire Delus (University of Lorraine, France)
Didier François (University of Lorraine, France)

9:40       Historic droughts in the Upper Rhine Valley (16th-20th centuries)

Emmanuel Garnier (University of Franche-Comté, France)

10:00     “Not even a frog would be able to find a puddle of water” - frequency and magnitude of historic droughts in Alsace

Alexis Metzger (University of Strasbourg, France)

Carmen de Jong (University of Strasbourg, France)

10:20 – 10:40  Coffee Break

Session 6: Adaptation and resilience to droughts (Chair: Maria de Garcia Dias Carraça)

10:40     Keynote 3: Vulnerability and resilience to droughts from narrative sources (12th – 14th centuries)

Thomas Labbé (University of Burgundy, France)

11:10     Droughts and societies in Western France during the Little Ice Age (XIVth-XVIIIth centuries)

Emmanuelle Athimon (University of Nantes, France)

11:30     Three centuries of vulnerability and adaptation to drought in the Zambezi-Save area of southern Africa, 1500-1830

Matthew Hannaford (Utrecht University, The Netherlands)

11:50     Long-term changes in water governance regimes and drought adaptation. A case study in the Metropolitan Region of Barcelona, NE Spain (1600-1870s)

Mar Grau-Satorras (Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), Spain)

Iago Otero (Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), Spain)

Erik Gómez-Baggethun (Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), Spain)

Victoria Reyes-García (Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), Spain)

12:10     Past drought management strategies of Mediterranean societies: the case of Marseille and the Lower Provence at the end of the Little Ice Age (1700-1850, Southeastern France)

Nicolas Maughan (University of Aix-Marseille, France)

Georges Pichard (University of Aix-Marseille, France)


12:30     Analysis of historic droughts in the UK: a systems-based study of drivers, impacts and their interactions
Jamie Hannaford (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford, United Kingdom)
John Bloomfield (British Geological Survey, Wallingford, United Kingdom)

Ian Holman (Cranfield University, United Kingdom)
Bettina Lange (University of Oxford, United Kingdom)
Ralph Ledbetter (HR Wallingford, United Kingdom)
Mark McCarthy and Steven Wade (Met Office, Exeter, United Kingdom)
Tony McEnery (University of Lancaster, United Kingdom)
Rebecca Pearce (University of Exeter, United Kingdom) the Historic Droughts Project Team

13:00 - 14:00 Lunch Break

Session 7: Adaptation and resilience to droughts (Chair: Alexis Metzger)

14:00     ‘Hungry Franks on dry land’? An interdisciplinary approach to the famine of 793 CE

Stephan Ebert (Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany)   

14:20     Droughts as a Trigger of Subsequent Locust Invasions? The Cases of the 1470s and 1540s

Christian Rohr (University of Bern, Switzerland)

14:40     Knowledge and characterization of droughts in the West of France

Jérémy Desarthe (University of Caen – Normandie, France)

15:00     The 1904 Great Drought Episode in Austrian Galicia: adaptation and resilience in a poor Central European rural society

Jawad Daheur (University of Strasbourg, France)

15:20     The Impact of the West European Drought 1975-6

John Martin (De Montfort University Leicester, United Kingdom)

15:40     The Memory of Droughts – From Written Sources into Tambora´s Digital Sustainability. The Near and Middle East Case Study

Michael Kahle (University of Freiburg, Germany)

Rüdiger Glaser (University of Freiburg, Germany)

Rafael Hologa (University of Freiburg, Germany)

16:00 – 16:20 Coffee break

16:20     Panel discussion: (Chair: Carmen de Jong)
Learning from Historical Adaptation and Resilience to Droughts – Where to go from now?

Murray Biedler (UNESCO Liaison Officer, Hydrology and Water Scarcity, Brussels)

Christian Pfister (University of Bern)

Rüdiger Glaser (University of Freiburg)

Thomas Labbé (University of Burgundy, France)

17:00     End of Conference
Talks:          15 minute talk, 5 minute discussion
Keynotes:   20 minute talk, 10 minute discussion

 The two days symposium will be composed of three major themes and four seven sessions. The speaking conference language will be English. Presenters will be are asked to talk for 15 minutes in length with 5 minutes for discussion (20 minutes for keynote speakers).


Please send a completed registration form and indicate the selected payment method to Alexis Metzger and Francine Kolb.

A fee of 100 € (50 € for PhD students) will be charged to cover coffee breaks and lunch.

Scientific Background

Ottmarsheim, 25th August (…). Approaching the village, one might be led to believe at first sight that one is facing a Saharan Ksour so much the soil is parched and bare due to the persistent drought”. That is how Charles Grad both scholar and erudite author of a rich book on the climate in Alsace at the end of the 19th century describes an Alsatian landscape. Literary pomposity or true description of reality?

 Amongst existing research on environmental history and historical climatology, few is focused on droughts. Symposia have previously brought together researchers working on these topics but none has specifically concentrated on droughts. Relevant conferences include that in 2016 on the geohistory of the environment in Toulouse (France), that in 2012 on “Scorching heat and extreme cold. The climatic event and its representations” in Paris and that in 2011 on “Historical Climatology” (German Historical Institute) in Paris. Abroad we can also cite the sessions on “Historical hydrology: floods, droughts and ice floes” (International Conference of Historical Geographers, London, 2015) and “Recording, Visualizing and Disseminating Cultural Memories of Extreme Weather” (Second World Congress of Environmental History, Portugal, 2014).

 This symposium will give us the chance of exploring a relatively new topic whose contributions in the international research community are still very diffuse. It aims to bring together researchers working on historical droughts mainly in France and Europe. Oral presentations illuminating adaptation and resilience of societies to droughts periods will be particularly appreciated. We will follow with interest Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie’s advice against all climatic determinism writing that “Climate continues to play its partition, its small destabilizing music along with the other sometimes ill-intentioned instruments and characters of the orchestra”.

 Extreme events throughout history that challenge the reactive capacity (resilience and adaptation) of societies will be highlighted. The symposium will bring to light information provided by a large diversity of narrative sources. Lying at the crossroads between environmental history, historical climatology, geography and hydrology, it will provide an international and interdisciplinary scope. Droughts do not have any borders even if they can be managed differently according to national administrations. They have also been partly studied by researchers from different disciplines. However they still remain the poor cousin of the geohistory of risks or of historical climatology since floods, storms or harsh winters have given rise to more retrospective work. Thus a symposium focusing on these events is of utmost interest.

1 – Narratives sources for reconstructing droughts

 In order to identify past droughts, researchers have several sources at their disposal. This first objective aims at highlighting and criticizing them. The following sources will be dealt with:

-        Fluvial navigation (unemployment periods may be linked to droughts),

-        Hungersteine (famine stones), witnesses of low water,

-        Operation of water mills,

-        Forest and settlement fires (sometimes induced by droughts),

-        Industry along rivers,

-        Drought sensitive agricultural production (spring cereals, hay, legumes, in extreme cases vines) ), also famines can succeed hot periods,

-        Drying up of fountains and wells,

-        Pro-pluvia Processions and Sermons (“for the rain”),

-        Measures taken by authorities to save water,

-        Spread of disease (in particular dysentery).

It will be also interesting to study the contribution of amateurs and persons with a passion for weather who noted weather conditions in their notebooks (including periods with low rainfall).

2 – The variability and the spatial extent of droughts

 This axis focuses on the study of specific events: how can historical droughts be classified? According to their duration? Their impact on society? Their spatial extent? How can their role be evaluated in the destabilization of seasonally and societal rhythms? The following subjects are welcome:

-        Reconstruction of certain significant episodes,

-        High resolution study of the chronological sequence (hydrologic, climatic and societal) of droughts,

-        Comparison between episodes of similar droughts,

-        Work on drought periods that are intermittent with heavy rainy periods.

3 – Adaptation modes of societies

 Because of their spatial extend and duration, some droughts have heavily marked societies. In order to face droughts, reactions are very diverse and this symposium hopes to confront them: how have inhabitants and administrations confronted these events according to their timing and spacing? Can one speak of resilience and how does it manifest itself? One could study:

-        Demand for assistance concerning disasters following droughts,

-        Compensation and insurance procedures,

-        Projects of reservoir construction in order to guarantee water supply during dry periods,

-        Water abstraction from rivers and rivalries in the choice of irrigation of certain fields as opposed to others,

-        Persecution of minorities as arsonists.

4 – The memory of droughts

 In 1780 an observer in Thann (Alsace) writes: “August beautiful and very hot. The drought lasted from Pentecost until the month of September with the exception of a few small thunderstorms. One cannot remember as long a drought before. We held public prayers everywhere”. Expressions such as “This has never been seen before” are a leitmotiv yesterday as much as today of the reactions when facing extreme events. Here we will see how the memory of droughts was kept alive or should be kept alive: how is it possible to maintain a better memory of extreme events and not be taken by surprise? This axes generally fit well with the idea of a “risk culture” that is so much at the forefront nowadays. Different research fields emerge:

-        Diffusion of knowledge on past droughts,

-        Putting into value the images of droughts (postcards, paintings, photography…),

-        Creation of bridges between memories of droughts and regional climatic projections,

-        Setting up networks for collecting source excerpts from Europe and beyond,

-        Cooperation between scientists working on droughts,

-        Evaluation of possible consequences of the recurrence of certain extreme European droughts (such as 1540) for present-day societies

Scientific Committee

Rüdiger Glaser, University of Freiburg, Germany

Carmen de Jong, University of Strasbourg, France

Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Collège de France,

Brice Martin, University of Haute-Alsace, France

Alexis Metzger, University of Strasbourg, France

Christian Pfister, University of Bern, Switzerland


Alexis Metzger, post-doctoral researcher: alexis.metzger[at]

Carmen de Jong, professor: carmen.dejong[at] Tel. 0033 368850948

LIVE (Institute of Imagery, City and Environment)

Faculty of Geography and Spatial Planning

University of Strasbourg

3, rue de l’Argonne

67083 Strasbourg