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A Global History of Historical Demography

Half a Century of Interdisciplinarity

Edited By Antoinette Fauve-Chamoux, Ioan Bolovan and Sølvi Sogner

At the XXIst World Congress of the International Committee of Historical Sciences (ICHS/CISH) in 2010 in Amsterdam, the International Commission for Historical Demography (ICHD) decided to write an overview of its own history. Fifty years had gone by since the CISH XIst World Congress in Stockholm 1960, when historians took the first tentative initiatives to create a wholly new interdisciplinary commission for historical demography, a meeting place for a budding discipline where researchers in letters and science could meet, exchange ideas, cultivate and develop a new field. This book is the outcome of that decision.

Demography, past, present and future is a common concern for all inhabitants of this planet. The variation is great, however, with regard to sources, social and political conditions, state of the art, technological development, national and local initiatives. In the course of half a century many changes take place. Keeping abreast of the gigantic streams of information and innovation in the field is demanding, even more so for a discipline with global dimensions and ambitions. The book makes fascinating reading, and preparing it has been a rewarding and thought provoking experience. The thirty-seven articles in the book represent as many different stories.

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7. A History of Historical Demography in Belgium

Extract

A History of Historical Demography in Belgium

Isabelle DEVOS and Christa MATTHYS1

Reflections on the Field

The development of historical demography in Belgium has been documented in several publications, three of which appeared in the Belgisch Tijdschrift voor Nieuwste Geschiedenis/Revue Belge d’Histoire Contemporaine, an internationally renowned journal. In 1981, Etienne Hélin published the first such article, in which he discussed the discipline’s evolution since its inception in the 1950s, as well as future possibilities. He expected that advancements in computer technology would allow for research into previously unexplored eras – such as the nineteenth century – and increasingly differentiated analyses. Two decades later, in 2001, Muriel Neven and Isabelle Devos evaluated the progress since made in this field with regards to Belgium. Shortly afterwards, they were followed by George Alter and Myron Gutmann, who wrote from a North American perspective. Both articles confirmed Hélin’s predictions and stressed the importance of Belgian historical demography in “breaking stereotypes” by challenging “well established paradigms” (Alter and Gutmann 2005, 537).

However, despite their usefulness in tracing the evolution of historical demography as a science, all of these publications are either dated or limited in their scope: Hélin’s work naturally did not take into account the last thirty years, Neven and Devos (2001) only discussed the nineteenth and early twentieth cen ← 157 | 158 → turies, while Alter and Gutmann primarily focussed on the themes of protoindustrialization and fertility (Alter and Gutmann 2005). The latter were also the...

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