The climate and weather are a currently important topics that attract attention from the media, the general public, politicians and scientists. Massive flooding all over Wales and England, Tornadoes at the English South coast, exceptional? According to the British Met Office was the year 2000 the wettest year across England and Wales since 1872. It was also announced that the current warm period that started a few decades ago is likely to continue in the coming decades.


Dutch winterlandscape painted during the
colder period known as the Little Ice Age
(Hendrick Avercamp, ca. 1608).
Source: Wikimedia Commons

This and other climatic variations in recent decades gave rise to a growing concern that human activities may be changing the earth’s climate. A decline in temperatures from the 1940s to the late 1970s gave rise to the belief that industrial pollutants were causing global cooling. Since then the earth shows a global rise in temperature which has been attributed to the increased concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide and other human produced greenhouse gases. Climate models suggest that this warming trend could accelerate in the coming 100 years, although the the precise extent of the warming and its impacts are far from clear.

To provide us with clues how much the climate will change an its impacts on human societies we need a better understanding of the climate fluctuations in the past and how people responded to it. To provide this information historians around the globe have started to reconstruct past climates from documentary and archaeological evidence and combine this with scientifically obtained proxy-data. One of the most studied climatic events of the past 1000 years is undoubtedly the Little Ice Age, a significant cooler period that lasted from the mid-16th to the early 19th centuries. The bibliography presented on This section presents a list of some of the work carried out by historians. Note that the list is far from complete and that it is meant as a starting point for people interested in the subject.

Some useful links:

Alley, Richard B., The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future, (Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 2002).

Atwell, W. S., “Volcanism and short-term climatic change in East Asian and World History, c.
1200-1699,” Journal of World History, 12 (2001): 29-98.

Bradley, R.S. & Jones, P.D., Climate Since AD 1500 (London and New York: Routledge, 1992)

Brazdil, Rudolf, History of Weather and Climate in the Czech Lands (Zürich, 1995).

Broecker, Wallace S., “Glaciers that speak in tongues and other tales of global warming”, Natural History110, 8 (2001) 60-69

Brown, Neville, The Impact of Climate Change: Some Indications from History, AD 250-1250 (Oxford, 1995)

Brown, Neville G., History and Climate Change: A Eurocentric Perspective, (London, Routledge, 2001)

Bryson, Reid A and Murray, Thomas J, Climates of hunger: mankind and the world’s changing weather(Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1977).

Chambers, F.M., ed., Climate Change and Human Impact on the Landscape (London, Chapman and Hall, 1993).

Fagan, Brian M., The Little Ice Age: how climate made history, 1300-1850 (New York: Basic Books, 2000).

Fagan, Brian M., The long summer. How climate changed civilisation (London: Granta Books, 2004)

Flannery, Tim, The Weather Makers. The History & Future Impac of Climate Change (Melbourne: TheText Publishing Company, 2005)

Fleming, James Rodger, Historical Perspectives on Climate Change (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998)

Frakes, L.A., Francis, J.E., Syktus, J.I., Climate modes of the Phanerozoic: the History of the Earth’s Climate of the Past 600 Million Years (Cambridge, 1992)

Frenzel, Burckhard, Pfister, Christian, Gläser, Birgit (eds.), Climatic Trends and Anomalies in Europe, 1775-1715: High resolution spatio-temporal Reconstruction from Direct Meteorological Observations and Proxy Data: Methods and Results (New York, 1994)

Frenzel, Burkart & Pfister, Christian, European Climate reconstructed from documentary data. Methods and Results (Mainz, 1992)

Garcia, R.R. and R. Garcia-Herrera, “Sailing ship records as proxies of climate variability over the world’s oceans”, Global Change Newsletter, 53: March 2003.

Garcia-Herrera, R., G.P. Können, D. Wheeler, M.R. Prieto, P.D. Jones and F.B. Koek, ‘CLIWOC: A climatological database for the world’s oceans 1750-1854’, Climatic Change, Volume 73, Numbers 1-2, November 2005, 1-2, 1-12

Garcia-Herrera, R., C. Wilkinson, F.B. Koek, M.R. Prieto, N. Calvo and E. Hernández, ‘Description and general background to ships’ logbooks as a source of climatic data’, Climatic Change, Volume 73, Numbers 1-2, November 2005.

Garcia-Herrera, R., G.P. Können, D. Wheeler, M.R. Prieto, P.D. Jones and F.B. Koek,. ‘Ship Logbooks Help Analyze Pre-instrumental Climate’, EOS 87 (2006) 18, 173-180.

Gribbin, John, ‘Climate and history: the West Viking’s saga’, New Scientist, 20 January 1990, pp. 52-55

Grove, Jean M., The Little Ice Age (London and New York : Methuen, 1988)

Gunn, Joel D. (ed), The Years without Sumer. Tracing A.D. 536 and its aftermath (Oxford: Archeopress, 2000).

Haberle, Simon G. & Lusty, Alex Chepstow, ‘Can Climate influence cultural development? A view through time’, Environment and History, 6 (2000) 349-369

Leijonhufvud, L., R. Wilson and A. Moberg, ‘Documentary data provide evidence of Stockholm average winter to spring temperatures in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries’, The Holocene, Vol. 18, No. 2,(2008), 333-343.

Leijonhufvud, Lotta, Rob Wilson, Anders Moberg, Johan Söderberg, Dag Retsö and Ulrica Söderlind, ‘Five centuries of Stockholm winter/spring temperatures reconstructed from documentary evidence and instrumental observations’, Climatic Change, August 2009.

Jones P. D. et al., eds., History and climate: memories of the future? (New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2001)

Kerr, R. A., ‘Paleoclimate. A variable sun and the Maya collapse’, Science, 2001, 1293

Keys, David, Catastrophe. An Investigation Into the Origins of the Modern World (London, 1999)

Lamb, H.H., Climate, History, and the Modern World (2nd ed., London/New York, 1995)

Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel, Times of Feast, Times of Famine: a History of Climate Since the Year 1000(London, 1972)

Lowe, J.J., ‘Setting the Scene: An Overview of Climatic Change’, in: Smout, T.C., Scotland Since Prehistory. Natural Change & Human Impact (Aberdeen, 1993), pp 7-

McIntosh, Roderick J., Tainter, Joseph A. and McIntosh, Susan Keech (eds.), The Way the Wind Blows: Climate, History, and Human Action (New York, 2000)

Parry, M.L., Climate change, agriculture and settlement (Folkestone: Dawson, 1978)

Parry, M. L., “Climatic change and the agricultural frontier: a research strategy”, in Wigley, T. M. L., Ingram, M., and Farmer, G. (eds), Climate and History: Studies in Past Climate and their Impact on Man(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), pp. 319-336

Pfister, Christian, ‘Climate and Economy in Eighteenth-Century Switzerland’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, IX:2 (Autumn 1978), 223-243

Pfister, Christian, G. Schwarz-Zanetti, and M. Wegmann. ‘Winter Severity in Europe: The Fourteenth Century’, Climatic Change, 34 (1996), 91-108.

Pfister, Christian, Kleinlogel, Gudrun, Schwarz-Zanetti, Gabriela, and Wegmann, Milne, ‘Winter air temperature variations in Central Europe during the Early and High Middle Ages (A.D. 750 – 1300)’, The Holocene, 1998 , 8, 567-564

Pfister, Christian, Brázdil, Rudolf & Glaser, Rüdiger (eds.), Climatic Variability in Sixteenth Century Europe and its Social Dimension: Special Volume of Climatic Change (Boston/Dordrecht, 1999)

Post, J. D., Food Shortage, Climatic Variability, and Epidemic Disease in Preindustrial Europe,
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985).

Puhe, J. and Ulrich, B., Global climate change and human impacts on ecosystems: postglacial development, present situation and future trends in Central Europe (Berlin/London, 2001).

Rampino, Michael R. (ed.), Climate, History, and Predictability (New York, 1982).

Rotberg, Robert I. & Rabb, Theodore K. (eds.), Climate and History: studies in Interdisciplinary History(Princeton, 1981).

Ruddiman, William F., Plows, Plagues and Petroleum: How Humans took Control of Climate (Princeton: Princeton Universtiy Press, 2005)

Sherratt, A., ‘Climatic cycles and behavioural revolutions: the emergence of modern humans and the beginning of farming’, Antiquity, 71 (1997) 271-287.

Utterström, Gustaf, ‘Climatic Fluctuations and Population Problems in Early Modern History’, in: Worster, Donald (eds.), The Ends of the Earth. Perspectives on Modern Environmental History (Cambridge, 1988).

Wigley, T.M.L., M.J. Ingram and G. Farmer (eds.), Climate and history: Studies in Past Climates and Their Impact on Man (Cambridge, 1981)