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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Save the dates: Nodegoat webinars (17.09 + 8.10 + 29.10)

Ester Zoomer


On 17 September and 8 October, our VIDI project (premodern conflict management) is organizing two Digital Humanities webinars, based on the data management program Nodegoat.

Nodegoat is a program for data management for humanists and especially historians. It allows to build source databases for individual projects as well as cooperative ones, and to run network analysis and all kinds of visualizations directly from this database.

The webinar setup is the following:

17 September 10:00-12:30: Nodegoat creators (Pim van Bree & Geert Kessels) will give a general introduction of the features and possibilities, and our project team will show some examples on the basis of our work, and we will talk about our experience so far.

8 October 10:00-12:30: During the second webinar you can work with the program yourself – with online advice and feedback from the creators and the chat. You can try using the program by making the first steps towards setting up a database if you have never done it; if you have, you can adapt your current data model to see how it would work in Nodegoat, or you can simply use an existing database/data model and play with a case study etc. We will be there to help.[....]

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Trust: a Sociological Theory (Sztompka)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

‘Trust: a sociological theory’ by Piotr Sztompka is a treasure trove both for social scientists and historians working on #trust relations, including #conflict management. By now a classic, it shows both what the fundamental ideas are and how to work creatively with the fuzzy notion of trust.

Three aspects can be highlighted in the context of our project. 1) The heightened need of trust goes hand in hand with the growing complexity of a society or situation, now or in the past. This allows us to look at the discourse of trust in conflict management from a new angle. 2) Trust towards institutions, very much needed in complex settings, is actually trust towards people behind them. Even when institutional terms are used for shortcut, whether it’s a court of law or (urban) government, we know in the present and our ancestors knew in the past who is/was specifically referred to. 3) Trust is an attempt to control the future, but it rests on the past. A thoughtful and many-sided analysis of past interactions is needed. This is especially valid for conflicts, large and small. This means in our view that actually everyone can make good use of skills of historians, even in everyday life. Not only #twitterstorians understand the 16th c quote ‘And loke that you truste nonne but that you know be surre’.[....]

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Between sea and city: portable communities in late medieval London and Bruges (Spindler)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

In our project, we follow the Hanse from their cities of origin to their communities abroad. The latter aspect will be today’s #RetroConflictsInspirations: we will discuss the Hanse in Bruges through the framework of Erik Spindler’s approach to ‘portable communities’.

He directs our attention in “Between sea and city” to mobile communities in port towns, incl. social groups within the Hanse that remained abroad for a short-term i.e.: “[communities] made up of people whose social and professional lives were clearly oriented towards the sea". ‘Portable communities’, in this sense, lacked a strong geographical component, the community they belonged to was more important than the town they traded in/travelled through. The key feature: the ability of their members to carry with them their membership of the community. The chapter pays close attention to aspects of mutual support; perception by outsiders; and sharing information in these communities – combining these in its concluding case study of the 1402 execution of Hanseatic captain Tidekin van der Heyde in Sluis, an event followed by a symbolic dispute started by the Hanse, after belatedly receiving the news, leading to his posthumous rehabilitation/reburial & public acts of remembrance by two Hanseatic social groups: the Kontor aldermen and 'other Germans, both captains and others’. The chapter combines a Hanse/Flanders conflict (with discussions re: privileges' protection), the often changing 'portable communities' travelling along medieval trade routes and the rhetoric of shared identity in Bruges, expanding beyond merchants supporting merchants.
Spindler, E., ‘Between sea and city: portable communities in late medieval London and Bruges’, in: Davies, M., and A.J. Galloway, London and beyond: Essays in honour of Derek Keene (London 2012).[....]

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Reichsstädtische Außenbeziehungen in der Frühen Neuzeit (Krischer)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

Today we’re reviewing André Krischer’s ‘Reichsstädtische Außenbeziehungen in der Frühen Neuzeit’, which appeared in the 2018 collection ‘Neue Stadtgeschichte(n). Die Reichsstadt Frankfurt im Vergleich’ edited by Schmidt-Funke and Schnettger #RetroConflictInspirations.

It offers an excellent account of how, in Frankfurt and elsewhere, Imperial Cities actively pursued diplomatic contact, which has left a rich set of sources on diplomatic travel and on cities' correspondence with the Imperial court, nearby states, and other cities. Drawing on Thiessen and Windler (2010), Krischer shows how the perspective of foreign policy in its modern sense offers us less when thinking about Imperial Cities than the concept of ‘Außenbeziehungen’, which better captures the social component of early modern politics. He emphasizes that ‘Außenbeziehungen’, by foregrounding agency and relationships, addresses the asymmetries of the period’s politics, an idea also important for our project as we consider cities in conflict with states, the Empire, the Hanse, and with one another. The ceremonial part of cities’ relationships is important here too. Despite challenges for urban republics trying to fit in to a society of princes, ceremonial interaction allowed them to carve out a political niche, which opened up new strategies for conflict management.[....]

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Trust in Long-Distance Relationships (Forrest & Haour)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

Sometimes it is difficult to do justice to an article in our #RetroConflictsInspirations, when it is as rich as Ian Forrest’s and Anne Haour’s contribution to the history of trust. For now, let us focus on their answer to one popular question: How did pre-modern merchants overcome challenges of long distance trade?

Generally, trust serves as a central component for explaining pre-modern trade since it reduced the risk and contingency of dealing with far-off, unmonitored partners. Much less effort, however, is taken to explain trust itself. Often, it is treated as given, resulting naturally from merchants’ common culture, i.e. common language, kinship, and faith. Yet, by turning to individual actors and their practices on a micro-level, Haour and Forrest suggest a reversal of perspective. ‘We might say that the work of creating trust was the work of creating culture. It was a matter of skills, knowledge, practices and learning, rather than possession of some essential similarities.’ Creating and preserving trust required constant attention and fostering on an individual level through language and performance, making it a core-competence for successful merchants. When we consider trust a main component of conflict-prevention and the central role trust-related language played in Hanseatic communication, the inspiration to #retroconflicts is clear. [....]

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