We are publishing bi-weekly microreviews on Twitter: short discussions of monographs, edited volumes and articles which have inspired us (#RetroConflictsInspirations). Diplomatic, social, economic, legal history on the one hand, and conflict resolution & management theory on the other.

History meets the social sciences.

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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.


Latest Blog Posts

Diplomatische Strategien der Reichsstadt Augsburg (Timpener)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

The majority of conflicts our different sub-projects are concerned with went beyond the formal boundaries of a single city. Often, such altercations required the town council to engage with other municipal governments, regional nobility, and even royal courts. Which is why this week’s #microreview turns towards the topic of #medieval urban diplomacy in the form of Evelien Timpener’s study of late medieval Augsburg’s foreign relations.

Focusing on the council’s conflicts with regional nobility and clergy in the 15th century, Timpener argues, that the main task of urban diplomacy lay in finding allies to support the city’s interests, not in negotiating quick conflict resolutions. While Augsburg’s council situationally cooperated with the nobility, it was the exchange with other cities and the kings of the Holy Roman Empire which constituted the main pillar of the city’s foreign relations. To this end, the council’s diplomats – magistrates, jurists, and messengers – utilized a broad and flexible combination of letters and oral communication. While Timpener focuses on the city’s interaction with regional nobility and clergy, her findings can also be applied to the ‘international’ scope of Hanseatic cities. Although the contact with foreign courts has been a central topic of Hanseatic historiography, only few historians have paid attention to the how and who of the cities’ diplomacy. [....]

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Luther, Conflict, and Christendom (Ocker)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

A new #microreview for you today, this time a monograph on pre-modern conflict management, which shares our project’s roots in Georg Simmel’s understanding of conflict as a process not to be resolved but managed and guided: Christopher Ocker’s Luther, Conflict and Christendom.

Ocker is centrally interested in how an individual affects history, calling the book an anti-biogrpahy, not looking at Luther’s personal life but instead at how others interacted with his ideas and actions. Luther being Luther, that usually means looking at conflicts. He analyses conflict at the political and intellectual levels, as well as at the level of everyday life for common people, characterizing the Reformation as “conflict with relative, not absolute, parameters, defined differently for different people at different times.” This offers new insights into familiar aspects of the Reformation. Considering reform in German cities, Ocker suggests the process was not only a new axis for conflict or extension of old conflicts, but a new set of strategies by which conflict could be explored and managed. Turning to a lesser studied area, he examines how conflicts Luther identified between Protestant morality and the challenges and temptations of life came to the New World with protestant travelers who reinterpreted these conflicts to suit new communities and environments. Here, he highlights the advantages of a conflict management approach to studying two key sixteenth-century developments: the Reformation and transatlantic exchange. By centering the process rather than the subject of conflict, he reveals continuities missed by other methods. The focus on conflict also allows for a perspective neither top-down nor bottom-up but which shows relationships at different scales interacting as conflict moves from one man's intellectual life, to relations in communities like towns or abbeys, to the geopolitcal theatre. [....]

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