J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, January 12, 2018

Saved by the Potato

Last year I got out of my comfort zone and looked into the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s for a public-history project. So I was primed when I saw a mention of this paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

It’s titled “The Long-run Effects of Agricultural Productivity on Conflict, 1400-1900,” and is written by Murat Iyigun of the University of Colorado at Boulder, Nathan Nunn of Harvard, Nancy Qian of the Kellogg School of Management.

The abstract says:
We construct a newly digitized and geo-referenced dataset of battles in Europe, the Near East and North Africa covering the period between 1400 and 1900 CE. For variation in permanent improvements in agricultural productivity, we exploit the introduction of potatoes from the Americas to the Old World after the Columbian Exchange. We find that the introduction of potatoes permanently reduced conflict for roughly two centuries. The results are driven by a reduction in civil conflicts.
In bold strokes, the potato staved off a lot of wars.

1 comment:

Mike said...

My head's spinning from the equation on page 12. I never knew potatoes were so complicated.