Review_of_Coping_with_Crisis_by_Benjamin - The Medieval...

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The Medieval Review Posted October 2015 Curtis, Daniel R. Coping with Crisis: The Resilience and Vulnerability of Pre-Industrial Settlements . Rural Worlds: Economic, Social, and Cultural Histories of Agricultures and Rural Societies. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2014. Pp. xiii, 381. $130.46. ISBN: 978-1-47242-004-6. Reviewed by Benjamin Graham University of Memphis [email protected] In 2005 Jared Diamond released the follow-up to his highly profitable Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies--it is a gloomier affair called Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Collapse plucks mostly ill-fated groups from around the globe and studies their response to catastrophe. Inspired by Diamond's verve (and evidently his comparative methodology), Daniel Curtis traces a similar thread of inquiry. He asks why some pre-industrial European communities succumbed to sudden exogenous forces, while others lived to fight another day. Unlike Diamond, who identifies environmental sensibility as the necessary condition for survival, Curtis hypothesizes that property arrangements determined a settlement's response to crisis. To test his claim he examines five regions in Europe-- Tuscany (Italy), Cambridgeshire (England), the Betuwe (the Netherlands), the Oldambt (the Netherlands), and Apulia (Italy)--with town and village-level case studies from between 1300 and 1900 CE. The first two chapters establish Curtis' vocabulary, historiography, and framework for assessing his settlements. His approach has its foundations in economic (namely Neo-Marxist) and disaster studies. Resilience, the key term here, is defined as a function of a society's ability to maintain its population, its agricultural productivity, and condition of its homes and other significant material goods. The conceptual novelty of this book lies in Curtis' attempt to create a set of quantifiable criteria for characterizing property arrangements. Measuring distribution of property and power (assessed on a scale from "egalitarian" to "polarized") and institutional change over time (assessed on a scale from "dynamic" to "persistent"), there are four possible "types" of pre-industrial societies: egalitarian- dynamic, egalitarian-persistent, polarized-dynamic, and polarized-persistent. He hypothesizes that certain "types" of societies responded to crisis with great resilience (egalitarian-persistent and egalitarian-dynamic), while others were vulnerable to collapse (polarized-dynamic and polarized- persistent).
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  • Fall '11
  • Arthur
  • Industrial Revolution, Curtis, Manorialism, Pre-industrial society, Domesday Book, Daniel Curtis

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