We are publishing 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.

Search in microreviews and other website content: https://premodernconflictmanagement.org/search

Dark Side of Knowledge (Zwierlein)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

The fact that ‘misunderstanding’ is often used as a synonym for conflict says a lot about where we think conflicts come from. Our past #microreviews have highlighted how expertise could be key in some conflicts, but the unknown can be just as important.

The 2016 volume The Dark Side of Knowledge, edited by Cornell Zwierlein, is certainly one of our #retroconflictinspirations in this area. It covers 400 years of the history of ignorance, with contributions from past review subject Daniel Smail, as well as Zwierlein himself. The interdisciplinary use of the sociology of knowledge (and ignorance) is a consistent theme in the book. Zwierlein and other contributors frame ignorance not as a void but rather as part a system of knowledge and related non-knowledge, with each influencing the other.It is informed by historical perspectives too, with its title drawn from Locke’s evocation of the reciprocity between knowledge and ignorance, and  notes to Pascal’s observation that growth in the ‘sphere’ of knowledge increases the amount of ignorance touched by its edges. Over its seventeen chapters the book develops a language for discussing past ignorance which combines sociological and historical insights to describe more precisely the range of ignorance or non-knowledge at play in the pre-modern world and its effects. Although the legal and political appearances of non-knowledge are particularly informative for our conflict project, one of the book’s strengths is its ability to show how ubiquitous the challenges of ignorance were in history: from art to trade to travel to education. The Dark Side of Knowledge: Histories of Ignorance 1400 -1800 is available at https://brill.com/view/title/33668?language=en , or you can read the introduction at


Latest Blog Posts

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. [....]

Continue reading

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. [....]

Continue reading

Konfliktaustragung im norddeutschen Raum des 14. und 15. Jahrhunderts (Dirks)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

Today’s microreview and #retroconflictsinspiration is Florian Dirks’@florian_d1 ‘Konfliktaustragung im norddeutschen Raum des 14. und 15. Jahrhunderts’ (V&R 2015).
The book focuses on feuds between (lower) nobility and northern German cities (Bremen, Lüneburg, Hildesheim) in the late Middle Ages, and the role diets played in dealing with conflicts (which ties in with our earlier microreview of the work of @HREhistorian). Dirks posits that especially Hanseatic city councils were eager to use diets as a tool in resolving feuds and highlights the role of councillors as mediators and witnesses for other cities. Six case studies are analysed meticulously, showing multiple reasons for feuds and a far more nuanced communication between the nobility-city parties than assumed until now. The negotiations took place in neutral places like hillsides, bridges or in cloisters: a nice illustration for the practice of premodern neutrality as discussed by e.g. @KOschema. For our project, it is of interest that diets were de-escalation tactics, after violence and economic damage occurred, and that there was a discourse of competence of councillors. Also, the book takes issue with #primarysources editions, which might have shaped our views of feuds and diets, following the remarks made by e.g. @angelalinghuang and @UKypta on the #Hanse, as well as a thorough discussion of the concept of feud.


Continue reading