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Title: Ergot usage and the contamination of foodstuffs in the 17th and 18th centuries and its possible implication in population changes
Author: Swaffield, J.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2009
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The population question in the long eighteenth century is explored and investigated further by using the demography available from the 30 year study by the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure, together with an understanding of the impact of ergot contamination of diet on female fertility. The hypothesis presented is that the staple rye diet at the end of the 17th century was contaminated with ergot which acted as a contraceptive and abortive agent and in addition could have had an influence on both the survival of women and children if given accidentally or deliberately during labour. Within this thesis it is argued that when the ingestion of ergot on rye was reduced within the diet from around the third decade of eighteenth century onwards this would have removed or released these fertility constraints and therefore it would have allowed women to become more fertile, while improved midwifery practice curtailed the negative effects of ergot ingestion during childbirth. These findings and their timing closely parallel the demographic changes reported by the Cambridge Research Group. Sufficient accumulated circumstantial evidence was found to support the hypothesis to suggest that ergot could have been a factor in both the fertility changes during the long 18thcentury and the perinatal mortality rate. The conclusions of this thesis need to be taken forward in additional local parish research by others to further substantiate these findings.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available