Documentary data and the study of past droughts: A global state of the art

Rudolf Brázdil, Andrea Kiss, Jürg Luterbacher, David Nash, Ladislava Řezníčková

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The use of documentary evidence to investigate past climatic trends and events has become a recognised approach in recent decades. This contribution presents the state of the art in its application to droughts. The range of documentary evidence is very wide, including general annals, chronicles, memoirs and diaries kept by missionaries, travellers and those specifically interested in the weather; records kept by administrators tasked with keeping accounts and other financial and economic records; legal-administrative evidence; religious sources; letters; songs; newspapers and journals; pictographic evidence; chronograms; epigraphic evidence; early instrumental observations; society commentaries; and compilations and books. These are available from many parts of the world. This variety of documentary information is evaluated with respect to the reconstruction of hydroclimatic conditions (precipitation, drought frequency and drought indices). Documentary-based drought reconstructions are then addressed in terms of long-term spatio-temporal fluctuations, major drought events, relationships with external forcing and large-scale climate drivers, socio-economic impacts and human responses. Documentary-based drought series are also considered from the viewpoint of spatio-temporal variability for certain continents, and their employment together with hydroclimate reconstructions from other proxies (in particular tree rings) is discussed. Finally, conclusions are drawn, and challenges for the future use of documentary evidence in the study of droughts are presented.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1915-1960
Number of pages46
JournalClimate of the Past
Publication statusPublished - 11 Dec 2018


  • Drought
  • documentary evidence
  • climate change
  • Historical climatology


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