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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Conflict management (Miranda)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

Research on merchants abroad easily lends itself to analysis of the urban laws & institutions of their host cities – and questions of urban autonomy and its influences. In today's #RetroConflictsInspirations, the spotlight is on Portuguese merchants abroad.

Flávio Miranda provides a test of recent historiography with empirical data, by examining the processes of (commercial) conflict management: how did Portuguese merchants protect their interests, what problems/disputes did they face, what strategies were applied? The question then is, if it is possible to confirm the existence of any link between significant differences in rules, laws & institutions, and the merchants’ choice of markets? A question just as relevant for our Hanse merchants. One observation intrigues from the viewpoint of our project: “... ‘privilege’ seems to have been the keyword, rather than anything else, measured in terms of the economic advantages [Portuguese] merchants could have for trading in a specific territory.” (p.28) The inter-connectivity between foreign urban institutions, urban autonomy, legal/diplomatic networks and mercantile interests/privileges abroad, in relation to #conflictmanagement, is one to keep in mind on this (rainy) Monday afternoon.[....]

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Lust for liberty (Cohn)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

We like to stress the variety of medieval conflict in our #retroconflictsinspirations but sometimes conflict is just what you expect: revolts, riots, and rebellions.  This week’s microreview is about that kind of conflict, Samuel K. Cohn’s ‘Lust for Liberty’.

Subtitled ‘the politics of social revolt in Europe 1250 to 1425’, the book compares the testimonies of many medieval chroniclers to present a picture of group conflict in both its qualitative and quantitative dimensions. One of the first comparative studies of this kind of conflict, the book’s quantitative elements provide valuable context for our project, charting the relative growth and decline of different kinds of conflicts, using a typology of conflicts based on their motivations. The comparison highlights the city as the main stage for medieval conflict, with 90% of Cohn’s revolts happening in urban settings. In its qualitative dimensions, the books also prefigures some of our interest in how strategies and tactics affected conflicts. Cohn emphasizes the economic and social determinants of conflict, but he is also sensitive to the ways that conflicts are shaped by their participants. Even as we look at conflicts outside the realm of political revolt, Lust for Liberty’s account of the skill of managing communication and symbolism during a conflict offers both an valuable example and an illuminating comparative point for our history of conflict management.[....]

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Extra-Legal and Legal Conflict Management (Cordes and Höhn)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

Competing legal orders without clear hierarchies and different overlapping institutions in every city and state: merchants of pre-modern long-distance trade in middle and western Europe must have been anxious to overcome this state of ‘legal fragmentation’ in order to solve their conflicts quickly and orderly. Or were they?

Time for more #RetroConflictsInspirations! In their contribution to the Oxford Handbook of European Legal History, Albrecht Cordes and Philipp Höhn argue that the negative connotation associated with medieval legal pluralism are ‘ex post description influenced by paradigms of modernity.’ Instead, medieval merchants were happy to use all options available to manage their conflicts.  And the coalescing spaces of legal and extra-legal conflict management provided them with a multitude of such choices and tactics - from courts and arbitration to the threat of feuds - to enforce their interests, to sustain communication in conflicts, and to contain escalation.
For #retro_conflicts, there is much to take away from this article but its focus on actors and choices, not on institutions, stands out. To not presume that conditions differing from the ideal-type of the modern state were perceived as negative and as something to overcome allows to consider the interests of individual merchants and their strategies to pursue them.[....]

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Language and conflict (Janicki)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

In Language and Conflict. Selected issues, the sociolinguist Karol Janicki constructs bridges between linguistics, communication studies, philosophy, social psychology and conflict studies. The result is a highly original structure. We integrate it into our #RetroConflictsInspirations due to a number of reasons. Historians study past conflicts through language in #primary sources, so the role of language in conflict and of conflict is crucial.

Language activates frames in the mind, and as such can both fan the flames of conflict and remove the fuel. Also, the same words can mean different things to people due to the underpinning that personal life experience provides. The use of symbolic language by humans is thus a mixed blessing. We know it for the present and the past, though it does not mean we pay enough attention to it. In  our project, this translates into a conscious effort to analyse the conflict discourse, with a caveat. As Janicki also points out, somewhat tongue in cheek for a linguist, that symbolic language is overrated in communication: p. 44 'Language is extremely simple compared to the complexity of the non-linguistic world'. It has a tendency to organize the world into binaries like us/them, good/wrong, though in fact there is a range of experience in between. He adds an important remark for historians: when looking at the past, all the complexities of the use and interpretation of language are amplified. What is the way forward, then? For the present, Janicki posits that we have to take this fuzziness of language in conflict into account. For us as historians of conflict, it is of interest to see to what extent people in the past were aware of it. [....]

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