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Bruce Campbell

Professor Bruce Campbell

Emeritus Professor

Phone: +44 (0)28 9097 3361, +44 (0)28 9097 3361

For media contact email comms.office@qub.ac.uk
or call +44(0)2890 973091.

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Research Statement

I was born and educated in Hertfordshire, a metropolitan county with a strong tradition of individualism and an excellent state school system. From 1967 to 1970 I studied Geography at Liverpool University, where I was powerfully influenced by the distinctive blend of data-driven historical geography and economic history taught by Professor Richard Lawton. My doctoral research — into the agrarian institutions and economy of late-medieval Norfolk — was then undertaken at Cambridge, at that time, under the headship of the notable Domesday scholar Professor H. C. Darby, the leading British Geography department for research into the historical geography of the pre-industrial period. There I benefited from the wise supervision of Dr Alan Baker. Tony Wrigley, Jack Langton, and Harold Fox were on the staff, Richard Smith and Mark Overton were fellow postgraduates, and the newly founded Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure was attracting a raft of talented young researchers. It was a stimulating if daunting time to be there and the contacts then made, as also at Darwin College, have stood me in good stead ever since.

In 1973 university appointments for people with my research interests were scarce and becoming scarcer and I was therefore glad to accept the position of Lecturer in Geography at The Queen's University of Belfast, notwithstanding that the Northern Irish 'Troubles' were then at their height. That move to Northern Ireland and Queen's paid dividends — personally, professionally, and intellectually — and I spent the whole of my academic career here, until retirement in November 2013, in, successively, the departments of Geography, Economic History, History, and, finally, the School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology. As a full-time academic I was always as much interested in teaching as in research and, until a degree of peace and normality became established in Northern Ireland, there were few more challenging and rewarding environments within the UK in which to teach undergraduates than Belfast. Teaching the historical geography of Ireland and, then, Irish economic history to my students taught me much and greatly enriched my agenda as an economic historian. Further, it exposed me to some first-rate scholars and scholarship and I am proud to have been elected a Member of the Royal Irish Academy in 1997.

Medieval economic history has always been my chosen research field. It offers big issues, a wealth of data, and the stimulus of a small but energetic band of fellow researchers. Since my initial work as a postgraduate in Cambridge, my aim has been to harness the wealth of detailed statistical information contained in England's extensive medieval archives to shed systematic light on the country's economic development when it was still comparatively poor, under-developed and prone to subsistence crises and famine. These aspirations have borne fruit, successively, in reconstruction of the provisioning of late-medieval London (Campbell and others, 1993, A medieval capital and its grain supply: agrarian production and its distribution in the London region c.1300), analysis of the output of seigniorial demesnes (Campbell, 2000, English seigniorial agriculture 1250-1450), examination of the attributes of lay estates (Campbell and Bartley, 2006, England on the eve of the Black Death: an atlas of lay lordship, land, and wealth, 1300-49), creation of a national database of crop yields (Campbell, 2007, Three centuries of English crop yields, 1211‑1491), and the medieval contribution to reconstruction of English national income per head back to 1270 (Broadberry and others, 2015, British economic growth 1270-1870).

Much of my work has focused on the fourteenth century, when the population was halved within the narrow space of a generation and the trajectory of socio-economic development thereby transformed. Since global climate reorganisation and eruption of the Black Death from a source in Central Asia were complicit in these developments, this has led me to become involved in environmental history and to engage with the research of climate historians and those micro-biologists and geneticists who have been investigating the early history of Yersinia pestis (plague). In 2010-11, while a Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, I began to engage extensively with these materials and they featured prominently in my 2013 Ellen McArthur Lectures at the University of Cambridge: “The Great Transition: climate, disease and society in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries”. These lectures have now been extensively revised and in July 2016 were published by Cambridge University Press as The Great Transition: climate, disease and society in the late-medieval world. In a spin off from this work, I have reassessed the claim that the serious English food crisis of 1258 was the result of the mega-eruption of the Indonesian Samalas volcano in mid to late 1257. The results of this investigation were were the subject of a lecture presented to the Royal Historical Society in May 2016 and will be published next year in the Transactions of the Royal Historical Society.  More recently, in collaboration with Steve Broadberry and in response to criticisms from Gregory Clark, I have been revisiting the agricultural output estimates contained in British economic growth and contributing to a project led by Jan Luiten van Zanden which reconstructs the chronology of church building in high-medieval Europe. My next project will be to return to where my academic research began and edit for publication the pre-1250 manorial accounts of the estates of St Benet’s Abbey in east Norfolk.

Since 2013, when I retired and downsized my office, my research papers have been on deposit at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, I remain academically active: I continue to publish, accept lecture invitations, participate in conferences and examine doctoral theses. Journal refereeing, however, I mostly decline. Even in retirement, it would seem, an academic's labours are never done. When not working, I enjoy looking at architecture of all periods, developing my wind- and rain-swept cliff-top garden in Co. Donegal, attending live performances of classical music, and walking my two Newfoundland dogs. 

Achievements and Distinctions

Member of the Academia Europaea (elected 2013).

Fellow Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (2010-11).

Fellow of the British Academy (elected 2009).

Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences (elected 2003).

Fellow of the Royal Historical Society (elected 2001).

Member of the Royal Irish Academy (elected 1997).

Other

Dedicatee of festschrift: Peasants and lords in the medieval English economy: essays in honour of Bruce M. S. Campbell, ed. Maryanne Kowaleski, John Langdon and Phillipp Schofield, Brepols, Turnhout, 2015.

English Seigniorial Agriculture 1250-1450 (CUP, 2000) nominated proxime accesit for the Whitfield Prize 2000 by the Royal Historical Society.

Arthur H. Cole Prize of the Economic History Association, 1984, for "the outstanding article published in the Journal of Economic History in the September 1983 through June 1984 issues".

DATE OF BIRTH

11 June 1949

DEGREES

Ph.D., Darwin College, University of Cambridge, 1975.  Thesis title:  ‘Field systems in eastern Norfolk during the Middle Ages:  a study with particular reference to the demographic and agrarian changes of the fourteenth century'.

Geography, B.A. Hons., 1st Class, University of Liverpool, 1970.

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