JIH has been interested in the history of climate ever since it published an issue on the subject in 1980.1 One of the topics that has been much debated in the literature since that time is the definition of what has been called the Little Ice Age (lia). Three questions, in particular, have prompted different answers: How is the lia to be identified, when did it take place, and to what extent was it a global phenomenon? As the role of climate in human affairs has become an increasingly fraught public concern, the importance of a historical perspective has grown ever more relevant. We are delighted in this issue of the journal to provide a glimpse of some of the latest thinking.
The lia topic came prominently to our attention, re-invigorating our ongoing interest in matters of climate, when Morgan Kelly and Cormac Ó Gráda submitted their paper, “The Waning of the Little Ice Age: Climate Change in Early Modern Europe.” Our two referees had reservations about Kelly and Ó Gráda’s position, but in essence thought it was worth offering a contrarian view of recent studies of the lia. We therefore accepted the article for publication. Knowing that Geoffrey Parker’s major new book on the Crisis of the Seventeenth Century was about to be published, however, and that it was going to argue for the significance of the lia, we asked Parker whether he would be willing to offer Kelly and Ó Gráda his comments. Parker’s suggestions ultimately had little effect on their argument, though they did add a critique of an article that Parker had written, as a brief foretaste of his book, for the American Historical Review in 2008, “Crisis and Catastrophe: The Global Crisis of the Seventeenth Century Reconsidered.” When we asked Parker if he would like to write a response to Kelly and Ó Gráda, he demurred. We therefore commissioned essays by Sam White, a historian with a strong background in climate studies, and Ulf Büntgen, a climatologist, to create a small forum on the lia.2 Jan de Vries kindly consented to extend his assessment of [End Page 299] Parker’s book into a review essay, on the assumption that his views—stated at greater length than would be possible in a regular review—would add another dimension to the topics considered in this issue.
The results occupy the pages that follow. Kelly and O’ Gráda will, of course, be offered the chance in our next issue to reply to the comments that are published herein. In the meantime, we hope that, by shining a spotlight on the lia, jih will help to encourage a renewed focus on the role of climate change in world history.
1. “History and Climate: A Special Issue,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, X (1980), 583– 861. Jan de Vries, who appeared in that landmark collaboration between historians and climatologists, also appears in this mini-forum on the Little Ice Age with a stellar review essay about Geoffrey Parker’s Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century (New Haven, 2013).
2. Büntgen had recently co-authored “Climate Change during and after the Roman Empire: Reconstructing the Past from Scientific and Historical Evidence,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, XLIII (2012), 169–220.