IUSSP Seminar on Spatial Analysis in Historical Demography: Micro and Macro approaches

Quebec City, Canada, 17-18 September 2015 

Organized by the IUSSP Scientific Panel on Historical Demography
in collaboration with the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi.

Program Committee: 

Martin Dribe (Lund University, Sweden), Don Lafreniere (Michigan Technological University, United States), Diego Ramiro Fariñas (Spanish Council for Scientific Research, Spain), Hélène Vézina (Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, Canada)


In recent years many new data sources have become available to historical demographers, which often include detailed geographical information allowing for sophisticated spatial analysis. Full-count data from national censuses with geographical identifiers at low levels of aggregation, even at the scale of the individual, as well as detailed historical maps of cities and countrysides are two examples of such developments. The linkage of contextual information to micro-level socioeconomic and demographic data further enrich these data sources and opens up a whole new range of possibilities for greatly improving our understanding of demographic patterns in the past. Spatial modeling of fertility and mortality change in the past or of the diffusion of new behavior in family formation and partner selection could make major contributions for our understanding of the first demographic transition. The analytical possibilities afforded by utilizing a historical GIS offer a completely new perspective and knowledge about the interaction between climatic, environmental, socioeconomic and demographic processes relating to health, mortality, migration, and families in the past.


The aim of this seminar was to stimulate original research in historical demography making use of these new data resources and infrastructures to address the major themes of the discipline and to bring together researchers from various backgrounds interested in spatial analysis in historical demography. The key issues addressed concerned the integration of space in micro- and macro-level demographic analyses, the influence of context at various levels (multidimensional space) on individual demographic outcomes, the connections between people and places and the processes by which these connections operate.



The seminar was attended by historical demographers, economic and social historians, historical geographers and sociologists from North American and European universities. The program consisted of sixteen presentations grouped in five thematic sessions: The Micro Space of Life in the City; Disentangling Spatial and Social Effects; Household and Residential Patterns; Modelling Mortality and Morbidity; Population, Migration and Movement at the Macro-Scale. Studies were conducted at a variety of geographic scales going from entire countries, to regions or cities using data from Sweden, Italy, Belgium, France, England, Spain, Canada and the USA. Researchers used individual, family and/or household information as well as other sources combined with historical GIS and applied various methods of demographic and spatial analyses to their datasets. 


Comments and questions addressed to the presenters referred to methodological, conceptual and substantive issues. In terms of methodology, challenges related to the combination and analysis of multiple data sources were raised and led to a recommendation of pushing on methodological sophistication. Following discussions, another recommendation was to overcome assumptions such as considering that spatial closeness implies a social network.


Lastly, a more general recommendation was to find opportunities and foster activities that will encourage communication between contemporary and historical demographers. Working with historical data often means having to find ways of handling incomplete data, to adapt analytical approaches and to question the representativeness of results. Contemporary data can bring up the same type of issues and contemporary demographers could benefit from the expertise and tools developed by historical demographers who don’t always seem aware of the relevance of their work. 


 The programme and participant list.

 The Working Papers.

 The seminar report.


Publication Plan: The output of the seminar will be a special issue in a peer-reviewed demographic journal.


Funding: Financial support was provided by the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, the Centre Interuniversitaire d’études québécoises (CIEQ) and the Université de Genève.