Economic development and environmental transformations in Europe’s extractive peripheries (16th – 21st centuries)

Economic development and environmental transformations in Europe’s extractive peripheries (16th – 21st centuries)

École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales
École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales
Vom - Bis
21.11.2018 -
Jawad Daheur

Resource extraction is fundamental to the structure of the economy. It involves any activity that extracts raw materials from nature, which are then directly used or processed to add value. Ranging in scale from the traditional use of pre-industrial societies to modern resource exploitation involving large infrastructures and complex technologies, extractive activities are the basis of the primary sector of the economy. Examples of extraction are hunting, fisheries, farming, forestry, mining, oil and gas drilling. Starting from the observation that the geography of resources has always played a crucial role in shaping the conditions of European economic development, the workshop aims at exploring the role of extraction by focusing on territories involved in such activities within the continent itself.

Despite European expansion overseas, areas primarily devoted to resource extraction never disappeared in Europe. Between the 16th and the 21th century, many European territories have experienced a specialisation in resource extraction at some point. All parts of the continent have been involved, either at a national, regional or local level. Examples of such territories are, among others: the Polish plains, main grain supplier in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries; the Morvan forest, specialising in timber harvesting for the Parisian market; the coalfields of Yorkshire and Lancashire, central to the British take-off in the 18th century; the Norrland, which fuelled the Swedish economy in forest products and various minerals during and after the industrial revolution; the North Sea, which today remains a major supplier of oil and gas, etc.

Looking at extractive economies in a long-term perspective, historians have addressed the intriguing question of comparative development, asking why some countries or regions developed much faster and further than others. In some cases, natural resource extraction can add substantial amounts to a region’s wealth and finally encourage welfare if some of the increase in income gets spent on human development such as education. If not, specialisation in resource extraction can cause problems such as dependence, extroversion and disarticulation of the local economy. In this case, extractive territories become peripheries being technologically, economically and politically dominated by areas importing and transforming their raw materials. This unbalanced relationship is intimately intertwined with environmental issues. Recently, scholars have emphasised the tendency of core countries and regions to displace environmental burdens into the peripheries of the world economy, slowing down or hindering their economic development . According to studies devoted to the uneven flows of matter and energy between rich and poor countries, declining terms of trade and persistent unequal exchange render extractive peripheries not only underdeveloped, but also ecologically impoverished. Indiscriminate extraction can affect the ecosystem in many ways. It may lead to the deterioration of the environment through depletion of resources and/or the pollution of air, water and soil, the destruction of habitat and wildlife.

Since environment and economy are increasingly being studied together, we encourage authors to submit papers exploring the history of development in Europe’s extractive peripheries in connection with the changes that affected their environment. Papers may deal with any parts of Europe between the 16th and 21th centuries, whether in a long-term perspective or focusing on a specific period. The following questions illustrate some issues that could be addressed:

- What were the geographical locations and the environmental conditions of extractive peripheries in Europe? How did they pass under the domination of centres?

- Under the influences of which actors did these territories become providers of natural resources at local, regional, national and European levels?

- Which were the modes of extraction used in these territories and how did they shape the evolution of local environments and patterns of development in short, middle and long term?

- What kind of knowledge was available about resource extraction in the peripheries on the one hand, and in the centers, on the other? When did environmental concerns start to emerge?

- In which ways and at what pace did the transformations of the environment influence the evolution of extractive activities in the peripheries?

- How did European extractive peripheries contribute to the development of Europe, European countries and European cities, and at which environmental costs?

- What were the changes that enabled extractive peripheries to diversify their activities and to get out of the domination of the centres?

Further information:

The languages of the workshop will be English and French.

If you are interested in applying, please, send your application to with a copy to by 30 May 2018. All the proposals need to include your e-mail address, a short CV, a title and an abstract (max. 500 words) in a unique file. You will receive a reply from the organisers by 30 June 2018. Draft papers have to be submitted by 15 October 2018.

One specific goal of the workshop is to continue and consolidate a research network on natural resources within the Research Group on Technology, Environment and Resources of the Tensions of Europe Network . The next day, on 22 November, interested participants are invited to a discussion session about further ways of collaboration and options for funding. Another possible outcome of the workshop could be a publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

The organisers and project partners are currently finalising the workshop’s funding and hope to provide hotel accommodation for most of participants, especially those without their own funding. A limited number of travel grants also may be available for students and early career researchers. Please tell us if you need support with accommodation and/or travelling to Paris.


Jawad Daheur, Postdoctoral Researcher at CERCEC/CRH, EHESS (Paris, France).

Scientific committee:

- Marc Elie, CNRS-CERCEC (Paris, France)
- Laurent Herment, CNRS-CRH (Paris, France)
- Matthias Heymann, Aarhus University (Denmark)
- Thomas Le Roux, CNRS-CRH (Paris, France)
- Raphaël Morera, CNRS-CRH (Paris, France)

Project’s partners:

- Tensions of Europe. Technology and the Making of Europe
- The RUCHE, French branch of the ESEH, European Society for Environmental History
- School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS)
- Center for Russian, Caucasian and Central European Studies (CERCEC, EHESS)
- Center for Historical Studies (CRH, EHESS)
- French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS)
- GDRI AAA Agriculture, Approvisionnement, Alimentation CNRS



Jawad Daheur