NWO VIDI project

Managing multi-level conflicts in commercial cities
in northern Europe (c. 1350-1570)

We all want to know how to end conflicts. That is why conflict resolution has been at the centre of academic debates in relation to individual, group and large-scale clashes. Yet conflicts are not only brought to an end, they can escalate or linger on. They are being managed. The current challenge is to reconsider classical paradigms for dealing with conflicts and anchor this change in historical reflection. In this project, ‘conflict managers’ in premodern cities in northern Europe open new doors to understanding how conflicts were dealt with in the past, and lead us to new questions about the present.

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New book publication, fact+fiction!

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

Rumours have been circulating about an unusual publication...

We can confirm now: our sources made it to a book which combines fact and fiction: a historical detective for all aged 10-110, curious about history and archival research![....]

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Introducing a blog series on #historyinconflicts: the medieval edition

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

On 25.06.2021, a group of medievalists discussed the question ‘what happens when history is evoked in conflicts’? Specifically: did such discourse take place? – how did it happen? – why did it happen? in medieval cases and sources, ranging from the Scottish Marches to Sardinia, and from lawsuits to references to burial mounds. What functions did such historical discourse have: was it for instance a call for change or a call for preservation in a conflict?... And who used the memory of a sometimes distant past in the heat of a clash? The historical argument in conflicts was not only an interpretation of the past. Various actors within such conflict gave meaning to events and relations in the past, and made use of the historical discourse for specific ends.

It became a very thought-provoking online meeting, which we want to share here. Indeed, the goal of this blog series is to present summaries of the contributions by medievalists, and to continue the discussion with early modernists and modernists. Some highlights by way of introduction.[....]

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The Trouble with Networks. Managing the Scots' Early-Modern Madeira Trade (Hancock)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

Management of long-distance trade often led to complex networks and with them, unique challenges for the individuals involved. Today’s choice for #RetroConflictsInspirations is a study of Scottish networks in the early-modern Atlantic build around the export of Madeira wine.

In his 2005 article 'The Trouble with Networks. Managing the Scots' Early-Modern Madeira Trade', David J. Hancock turns our attention to a part of network literature that had, until then, been neglected: 'the troubles networks created for members'. Revisiting this critical approach underlines the double-edged sword of trade networks. The Madeira trade networks were solutions to familiar premodern problems of distance, transportation and communication. Here, we find recurring themes from our #microreviews: reputation, trust and reciprocal relationships. Specifically, the focus on network 'memory' and reputation in this study deserves further attention. A trader’s reputation (e.g., his connections or trustworthiness) could be the key to unlocking more opportunities, but failure/mismanagement of his network led to sanctions and exclusion. Network memory could also fail or provide incorrect assessments, leading traders to agreements with partners turned out to be ‘a bad investment’. Maintaining the advantages of networks required careful & continuous management; any failure led to new challenges to overcome. [....]

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Economies of violence (Esmer)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

Today’s microreview is on an article which examines the complex role of violence in premodern conflicts. In a very captivating way, Tolga U. Esmer discusses in ‘Economies of violence, banditry and governance in the Ottoman empire around 1800’ how bandits were not marginals, but in fact quite central to the functioning of the empire in modern-day Balkans.

Their actions  were ‘essential aspects of the Ottoman imperial model for upholding a ‘common good’ and achieving order’. Since they acted both in cooperation with officials and on their own behalf, the officials strove to control the narrative about bandits: they were extra-military forces in times of war, and bandits in peacetime. This echoes a phenomenon we encounter in our sources: namely ‘privateers’ and ‘pirates’, who pose challenges of classification because of the boundaries of their liability, of contemporary terminology with an agenda, and of modern day terms to be used in the analyses. Esmer points out there was an ‘economy of violence’ in the exchanges with the officials, with the local society, and within the groups of bandits. Apart from property or money, less tangible aspects like honour, loyalty, social capital played a fundamental role in the choice to take risks or position themselves in the society. These ‘surpluses of human behaviour’ as Esmer quotes after Georges Bataille, need to be taken into account when discussing state formation, land tenure, taxes or conflict management. Again, this evokes a parallel in our project, namely to the role of trust not only in mercantile exchanges, but also in conflict management.[....]

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Politische Kommunikation in der Hanse (1550-1621) (Schipmann)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

This week’s #retroconflictinspiration and #microreview takes us to a rather understudied field of Hanseatic research: the late 16th and the 17th century. Published in 2004, Johannes Ludwig Schipmann’s PhD thesis ‘Politische Kommunikation in der Hanse (1550-1621)’ anticipated some of the more recent developments in Hanseatic research.

By taking a comparative approach and based on research around the Imperial Diet, Schipmann argued against the often-presupposed uniqueness of the Hanse. To concentrate too narrowly on formal qualities like a common seal and coat of arms can avert our attention from a shared political communication and culture. (See already our microreview on Duncan Hardy’s take on diets.) Even when agreeing that the Hanse is and was difficult to grasp in terms of political and economical institutions, it shared practices of communication with its contemporaries. Thus, Schipmann does not, through the lens of 19th century state-theory, consider the Hanseatic diet as ‘inefficient’ due to its slow decision-making. Rather, he identifies it as just one (albeit important) cogwheel in a long process of consensus-making which – featuring tactics of escalation and de-escalation – allowed participants to reconcile common and individual interest, Hanseatic commonalities and regional particularities. [....]

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Negotiated Reformation (Close)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

In the 1540s the city of Augsburg was in negotiation with two smaller cities over their religious policy, Donauwörth and Kaufbeuren. In Kaufbeuren the negotiations rolled along uneventfully, in Donauwörth they escalated to invasion by Augsburg. That is the scene of inter-urban conflict which begins Christopher Close’s ‘The Negotiated Reformation’ (2009), and a great #retroconflictinspiration to kick off this year’s #microreview series.

The book explores how communication within and between cities contributed the unfolding of the Reformation in the urbanized region of eastern Swabia. It challenges both top-down and bottom up views of Reformation arguing instead that it was communication between cities which ensured the Reformation’s spread and accounted for its local variations. In East Swabia this meant cities taking on differentiated roles in a network of information exchange. This network, centred on Augsburg, allowed cities to debate the reformation as it emerged and shape religious practice through conflict and collaboration. Some cities like Augsburg sought to advocate their Reformation as model of others, while other cities sought influence through exporting church personnel (Memmingen), contact with reformers further afield (Donauwörth), or cultivating strong local traditions and preferences (Kaufbeuren). By reconstructing this communication network’s function in regional politics, and the differentiated roles of East Swabian cities within it, Close’s book puts interurban conflict management at the centre of the Reformation, and prompts further consideration of its wider role in politics. [....]

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