NEW! T. Labbé: Aux origines des politiques compassionnelles: Émergence de la sensibilité envers les victimes de catastrophes à la fin du Moyen Âge

Read the latest publication of Thomas Labbé on the politics of compassion in the prestigious “Annales”, or enjoy at least the English abstract below before you take a deep dive in your remaining French:

Adopting a socio-anthropological perspective that considers accounts of and reactions to extreme events as social constructs largely determined by sentiments shared and valorized within a given society, this article focuses on the emotions produced by natural disasters between the thirteenth and the sixteenth century. When it comes to the study of catastrophes, historiography has generally privileged the analysis of rational discourse, identifying the secularization of interpretative patterns following the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 as a decisive historical rupture. The emotion-based approach, however, reveals another discontinuity in Western attitudes, which has attracted less attention. Fifteenth- and especially sixteenth-century sources emphasize a new kind of sensitivity toward the “humanitarian” aspect of disasters. Though the interpretive framework remains that of sin and retribution, this shift nevertheless demonstrates an important change in the perception of social distress. First, the language used to describe catastrophes follows a new emotional pattern: over the sixteenth century, notions of terror and pity replace the fear and wonder that characterized medieval narratives. Désastres, a term that also emerged at this time, progressively come to be perceived as tragedies. Second, this new emotional construction is reflected in political theory and practice, as local authorities integrate urgent care for disaster victims into their sphere of responsibility. On a more general level, the article demonstrates the construction of a moral economy that progressively valorized the figure of the victim in perceptions of reality over the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, planting the seeds of modern compassionate policies.

Labbé, T. (2019). Aux origines des politiques compassionnelles: Émergence de la sensibilité envers les victimes de catastrophes à la fin du Moyen Âge. Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales, 74(1), 45-71. doi:10.1017/ahss.2019.139

What to learn from past climate change and epidemics

An interview (in German) with Martin Bauch is dedicated to the topic of what we can learn today from researching past climate change and past epidemic events. The long form is online at (thanks to Sandra Kirchner), a shortened version appeared in the Frankfurter Rundschau on 18 April 2020

That climate history and the history of past pandemics is closely related is also an assumption shared by two colleagues from the US and Israel that have started recently their interesting podcast “Infectious Historians“. Despite the slightly scary name it’s well worth your time.