Historical Demography as an Interdisciplinary Hub


Historical demography has always been situated at the junction between several disciplines: history, geography, demography, economics, mathematics, medicine, sociology, ethnology, law and political sciences, archaeology, linguistics, and the list can go on. Historical demography is an amazing territory for dialogue between historians specializing in different periods and branches, but it is born and permanently nourished by interdisciplinarity and exchange. In the mid-1950s, Louis Henry (1911–1991), a French mathematician who became a demographer, wanted to distinguish Historical Demography from the traditional Population Studies. Henry brought a new method of analysis into the field, based on family reconstitution.

Conceived as universal, it allowed the statistical study of serial historical sources, neglected until then, i.e. parish registers. Since the 16 th century, all over the Christian world, priests had to record in detail individual vital events as baptisms, marriages, and burials. They established nominative listings in order to register all inhabitants and families of their localities. In the 1960s and 1970s, in the context of the International Congresses of the International Committee of Historical Sciences (ICHS/CISH), with the French Institut National d’Études Démographiques (INED) in Paris, a very large international scientific network of historical demographers was established at global level. It was developed first in Europe and North & South America, in close collaboration with historians of the Annales School, involving partners of all disciplines and connecting professional networks beyond political frontiers.

Keywords: historical demography, Population Studies, Louis Henry, parish registers, Fernand Braudel, Annales School, family reconstitution, global network, family/demography network, interdisciplinarity.