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Malthus: Food, Land, People Conference

2016 is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Robert Malthus (1766–1834), author of the most famous book on population ever written.

Since its original publication in 1798, the Essay on the Principle of Population has never been out of print, nor has it been out of public discussion. This is not just because of Malthus’s thesis, but because the substance of his work touches so many critical issues in the human and natural sciences: good and bad government; equality and inequality; food and agriculture; demographies and human behavior; sex and gender; land and property; development trajectories and economic predictions, histories and futures.

In June 2016, a two-day interdisciplinary conference Malthus: Food, Land, People will be the most substantial reassessment of Malthus, his ideas, and his global significance for several generations. We will aim to escape (or perhaps, if beneficial, to analyse) the pro- and anti-Malthusian stances that have accumulated since 1798.

We will ask different questions of Malthus and his famous text: What is the long history of development here? Was gender a key element for Malthus, and if so, what do the major changes in cultures of gender and sex mean for his thesis? How did and does the extra-European world figure? What philosophy of limits has governed the changing assessment of Malthus? Does Malthus help us think through the connection between economy and ecology? How have and will different demographic structures in the past and present been mapped onto types of food production and patterns of rural development? What has the foregrounding of “climate” in recent years done to the principle of population?

The conference will include a launch for The New Worlds of Thomas Robert Malthus, a new book by Professors Alison Bashford (Cambridge; Fellow of Jesus College) and Joyce E Chaplin (Harvard), which radically recasts the famous economist’s ideas from a British and European context to a world and imperial one. There will also be a public lecture by Sir Tony Wrigley.

Malthus: Food, Land, People is supported by Jesus College, the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), the Economic History Society, and the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge.

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