chapter  3
23 Pages

Managing Natural Hazards : Environment, Society, and Politics in Tuscany and the Upper Rhine Valley in the Renaissance (ca. 1270–1 570)

This article focuses on the connection between natural conditions and social structures by analyzing the role of both of these factors in managing natural hazards and disasters in two European regions in the Renaissance.1 The approach followed here is based on the assumption that people always considered the cost-benefi t balance when faced with natural hazards. Maybe this practice was based on an implicit understanding of risk.2 How ‘costs’ and ‘benefi ts’ were weighed against each other is culture-specifi c and can vary from epoch to epoch and region to region.3 Settling near rivers for instance could be considered an economic advantage (using the river for transport, fi shing, milling) but at the same time put the settlements at risk from fl oods. This recognition of the risks posed by natural hazards implies a certain way of dealing with or responding to the natural environment, the existence of some form of interaction between the natural environment and social structures. Then natural disasters, as extreme events, would highlight this cost-benefi t balance. The core question is: To what extent can we speak about some form of ‘institutional learning’ through recurring natural hazards and disasters? Or in other words, to what extent are societies shaped by their natural environment and vice versa?