Dr. Heli Huhtamaa


Abteilung für Wirtschafts-, Sozial- und Umweltgeschichte

+41 31 684 48 03
B 122B, Unitobler, Länggassstrasse 49
Universität Bern
Historisches Institut
Länggassstrasse 49
3012 Bern
From 2018 SNF Early Postdoc. Mobility Research Fellow at the Heidelberg Centre for the Environment, University of Heidelberg, with the research group “Facing Famine”
2017 - 2018 Postdoc Researcher at the Institute for History and Art History, University of Utrecht within the Research Project „Coordinating for Life“
2017 Double Doctorate: Ph.D. of Science in Climate Sciences (University of Bern) and Doctor of Philosophy (University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu).
Title of the thesis: „Exploring the Climate-Society Nexus with Tree-Ring Evidence. Climate, Crop Yields, and Hunger in Medieval and Early Modern North-East Europe“
2014 - 2017
Doctoral candidate for a double doctorate degree (cotutelle):
  • Candidate for a PhD in History: Past, Space and Environment in Society -doctoral program, University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu, Finland.
  • Candidate for a PhD in Climate Sciences, Graduate School of Climate Sciences, University of Bern, Switzerland.
2012 Master of Science (MSc) in Geography, University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu, Finland
2011 Master of Arts (MA) in History, University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu, Finland
  • Climate history / historical climatology
  • Historical Geography
  • Interdisciplinarity between historical and climate sciences
  • Human consequences of the Little Ice Age
  • Pre-industrial Northern Baltic Sea region

Climate extremes and population dynamics in the northern Baltic Sea region prior to the industrialization (1636–1935)

The project studies if, and to what degree, seasonal climate variability and extreme events influenced demographic dynamics in the pre-industrial (1636–1935) northern Baltic Sea region. Moreover, different socio-environmental components influencing exposure, vulnerability and resilience, which, in turn, likely influenced the population response to climate, are explored.

The northern Baltic Sea region, and especially southern and western Finland, is selected as the study area due to the extraordinary availability of the direct and indirect demographic and climate data. From this region, high-resolution time-series of climate and population can be compiled from “natural” and man-made archives to span over centuries. In addition, as Finland is located at the northern margin of agriculture, the example of pre-industrial Finland may provide an analogue to today’s subsistence farmers living in other agroclimatologically marginal areas, like arid regions. Such a perspective is important, as people living in these areas are expected to be the most adversely affected by extreme events in the future. Moreover, the studied time period overlaps with the culmination and termination phases of the “Little Ice Age” (LIA), which is the last distinctive climatic regime before the contemporary anthropogenic climate change. Therefore, the period of the LIA can improve our understanding on the human consequences of abrupt climatic changes.

The results will provide insight into the long-term climate-population nexus that have barely been addressed in previous research. Moreover, as it is not yet fully understood how the changes in exposure and vulnerability have altered the population response to climate over a longer period of time, the results can improve our understanding on the temporal nature of exposure and vulnerability. Such understanding has arguably never been more important than at present in the context of anthropogenic climate change and its potential future population responses.

Frosts and Food Crises: Understanding climate, its impacts, and food system vulnerability to climate change in pre-modern North-East Europe

(conducted in joint-supervision at the University of Eastern Finland and at the University of Bern).

Climatic factors have affected subsistence strategies throughout human history. In North-East Europe, climatic anomalies and weather extremes are considered as the greatest threat for the medieval and early modern food systems. The historiographies of the region (modern day Finland, Estonia, Latvia and north-west Russia) are filled with accounts and allegories of harsh climate and struggle for survival. Yet, commonly these interpretations are rather cursory remarks. Different interconnections between climate and food systems in pre-modern North-East Europe have not received detailed examination.

My PhD dissertation will examine the climate-human relationships in North-East Europe prior to the modern era, focusing on the impacts of extreme climatic events on food systems. The materials are compiled from historical sources, archaeological evidence and paleoclimatological reconstructions. The aim is to explore various historical cases in order to better understand the complex interrelationships between climate and human actions, the impacts of climatic anomalies on different food systems, and the temporal and spatial variability of socio-environmental resilience to climatic fluctuations. Further emphasis is paid on exploring the challenges and prospects of using paleoclimatological data as historical source material. Therefore, the interdisciplinarity in climate history is in the centre of discussion: how to bring materials, methods and approaches from humanities and climate science closer together.

Ljungqvist, F. C., Seim, A. and Huhtamaa, H. 2021. Climate and society in European history. WIREs Climate Change, 12(2), e691.

Degroot, D., Anchukaitis, K., Bauch, M., Burnham, J., Carnegy, F., Cui, J., de Luna, K., Guzowski, P., Hambrecht, G., Huhtamaa, H., Izdebski, A., Kleemann, K., Moesswilde, E. Neupane, N., Newfield, T., Pei, G., Xoplaki, E. and Zappia, N. 2021. Towards a rigorous understanding of societal responses to climate change. Nature, 591, pp. 539–550.

Huhtamaa, H., Helama, S., Leijonhufvud, L. and Ljungqvist, F. C. 2020. Combining the archives of nature and society: Tree rings and tithes. PAGES Magazine, 28(2), pp. 50–51.

Huhtamaa, H. 2020. Climate and the crises of the early fourteenth century in north-east Europe? In: Schenk G. J.and Bauch, M. (eds.) The Crisis of the 14th Century: "Teleconnections" between Environmental and Societal Change? Berlin/New York: De Gruyter, pp. 80–99.

Huhtamaa, Heli and Helama, Samuli, 2017. Distant impact – tropical volcanic eruptions and climate-driven agricultural crises in seventeenth-century Ostrobothnia, Finland. Journal of Historical Geography, 57, pp. 40-51.

Huhtamaa, Heli and Helama, Samuli, 2017. Reconstructing crop yield variability in Finland – Long-term perspective of the cultivation history on the agricultural periphery since ad 760. Holocene, 27, pp. 3-11.

Huhtamaa, H., 2015. Climatic anomalies, food systems, and subsistence crises in medieval Novgorod and Ladoga. Scandinavian Journal of History, 40(4), pp. 562-590.

Huhtamaa, H., Helama, S., Holopainen, J., Rethorn, C. and Rohr, C., 2015. Crop yield responses to temperature fluctuations in 19th century Finland: provincial variation in relation to climate and tree-rings. Boreal Environment Research, 20(6), pp. 707-723.

BORIS-Publikationsliste (Bern Open Repository and Information System)

The Young Researcher Award 2018, University of Eastern Finland, Finland.

Highly commended recognition in the Journal of Historical Geography Essay Prize 2017 for the article “Huhtamaa, Heli and Helama, Samuli, 2017. Distant impact - tropical volcanic eruptions and climate-driven agricultural crises in seventeenth-century Ostrobothnia, Finland. Journal of Historical Geography, 57, pp. 40-51”.

Best poster contribution (ex-aequo): ‘Crop failures and extreme climate events in historical Finland,’ Swiss Climate Summer School: Extreme Events and Climate, Monte Verità, Switzerland, August 23–28, 2015.