Centre for Agrarian Historical Dynamics

The Comparative History Project

CAHD is now preparing an international research project aimed at using not just the history of large societies, that usually receive most attention from historians, but also small ones (such as Iceland) to help illuminate general laws of history that apply to all of them.

The theoretical premises is that general laws of social evolution apply equally to all societies whether they are large or small. To discover these laws, the study of small societies can be just as valid and valuable as the study of larger ones and the more societies we study the greater are our chances of discerning something meaningful. This sort of comparative history uses the discovery of how certain things worked in some societies to illuminate how they could possibly also have worked in others, even where source material is scarce. For example, medieval Iceland has a wealth of narrative sources that illuminate social processes, even at the lowest level of society, rarely seen in medieval sources from other countries. The study of these processes can possibly help discover similar processes in other countries.

The project is centred on the medieval period (ca. 1000-1500 AD), at least from the Icelandic end, although participants in other countries need not adhere strictly to these parameters as long as we all agree on research objectives. Our task is to prepare research in different countries into the same or similar issues so that we can compare the results and hopefully, through this comparison, attain a better general understanding of the issue. This new understanding can then be applied to the cases in each country to fill out and complement the local findings. Research objectives typically try to establish the nature of the relationship between two or more distinct elements of society.

Some ideas for research objectives within the project:

  • Central government and local autonomy
  • Population growth (or lack of it) and household types
  • Inheritance (aristocratic and popular), politics and population pressure
  • The marriage market and the respective situation of men and women

This list is only suggestive and interested parties should feel free to present other ideas. Those interested in taking part in this project or seeking further information should contact us.