IUSSP Seminar on Urban Health Transformations 
Cambridge, United Kingdom, 11-12 July 2017 

Organizing Committee: Alice Reid, Romola Davenport, Richard Smith, Sophy Arulanantham (Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure, University of Cambridge); Diego Ramiro Fariñas (Spanish Council for Scientific Research). 


The IUSSP Scientific Panel on Historical Demography and the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure organized a Seminar on Urban Health Transformations, in Homerton College, Cambridge (United Kingdom) on 11-12 July 2017. The seminar was sponsored by the Wellcome Trust, the British Society for Population Studies (BSPS), the Galton Institute, the Population Investigation Committee, the Economic History Society, and Cambridge Cultural and Historical Geography (Department of Geography, University of Cambridge).




Current population trends are shaped by a long history of social, economic and demographic interactions. Recent advances in data and methods have enabled demographic responses to changing economic and social conditions to be differentiated by community context, household composition, and individual socioeconomic and demographic characteristics in a detailed comparative context. A prime example of such differentiated and contextualized analyses of demographic behavior in the past is the Eurasia Project on Population and Family History. It is however also applicable to a number of other recently constructed historical datasets based on household registers, family reconstitutions, genealogies, and other sources, as well as to the increasing number of contemporary datasets generated by panel surveys and administrative registers. However, most research so far has dealt either with contemporary issues or exclusively with the past. Around the world there are a number of new efforts to bridge past and present populations using data spanning long periods or by creating longitudinal datasets from synthetic cohorts. This way of linking the past to the present represents a unique opportunity for historical demography to contribute significantly to our understanding of current population problems. 


The seminar brought together 32 participants from different regions of the world: Australia, Belgium, Cameroon, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. Nineteen papers were presented in seven sessions. The meeting addressed a variety of topics including how the nature of the urban setting affected mortality; intra-urban variations in health; mortality migration; sanitation and health; maternal health; and illness. Details on the content of the papers are available in the seminar report.  


The seminar was concluded by a guest discussant, Tim Dyson of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), who provided an insightful and (mainly) sympathetic closing commentary. During this he drew together some of the major themes of the seminar and raised some broader issues. These included the perennial problem of how to define ‘urban’ which challenges both historical and contemporary demographers, and the fact that the nature of the urban-rural contrast may change over time and with the level of urbanisation. Nevertheless, he noted that many of the issues covered by both historical and contemporary demographers are the same. He felt that this seminar brought these out very nicely and can be seen as a prima facie case for the establishment of a new IUSSP panel on the urban sector. 


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