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.

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The Culture of Reconciliation (Muldrew)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

The themes of this week’s #RetroConflictsInspirations are informal dispute settlement, community and trust, courtesy of ‘The Culture of Reconciliation’ by Craig Muldrew. Connecting economic growth with the great increase of the numbers of disputes in early modern England, Muldrew makes a strong case for the prevalence of “communities based on extensive networks of informal personal trust”, and informal means of conflict resolution.

Economic disputes, related to e.g. contracts and credit, became more complex as trade expanded, and increasingly, the authority of law was required in dispute resolution. The growth of legal suits strengthened the occurrence/importance of laws of contract & debts. But this did not mean that the role of informal means of dispute settlement was replaced. To paraphrase, Muldrew aptly states that examining conflict only in terms of the law is insufficient, and that attention should also be paid to the practices, conceptions, and emotions of disputing individuals (p.918). Expanding research to the role of social institutions (hierarchy, kin networks, guilds) has indeed been prevalent in current research to conflicts – and perceptions of conflicts, and the reactions to them by individual actors, are an invaluable part of our project’s research. Moving from conflict resolution to #conflictmanagement makes it further possible to analyze the process of the increasingly complex mercantile disputes, and all the forms of (in)formal ways individuals and communities sought means of arbitration and the resolution.

C. Muldrew, 'The Culture of Reconciliation: Community and the Settlement of Economic Disputes in Early Modern England', The Historical Journal, Vol. 39, No. 4 (Dec., 1996), pp. 915-942



Latest Blog Posts

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.


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Order within Law, Variety within Custom (Kadens)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

We will start this week by highlighting the concept of the law merchant and the criticisms that can be applied – by selecting Emily Kadens’ article ‘Order within Law, Variety within Custom’ as today’s #RetroConflictsInspirations.

Kadens argues against the idea of self-regulating law merchant (“a coherent, European-wide body of general commercial law, driven by merchants”) and offers a re-examinations of medieval merchant law. Not based on lex mercatoria but iura mercatorum: the laws of merchants. The merchant law that can be derived from source material was a collection of e.g. privileges, public statues & private customs. Both the merchant communities and their practices, and the government’s legislation, or ‘non-customary police power’, were of importance for the development of the medieval merchant law. Kadens suggests that mercantile law filled a gap in the customary/statutory laws of medieval Europe, but it was not entirely merchant driven, nor was it universal. And, relevant for our project: locality needs to be taken into account. Indeed, when looking at Hansards trading abroad, the cities they visited & their governments are a vital component for research into the way merchants approached law abroad. Conflicts often crossed legal borders and could simultaneously involve merchant/urban/royal courts.[....]

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Spielregeln der Politik im Mittelalter (Althoff)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

In today’s #microreview it is time for a modern classic of #medieval historiography. In his 1997 book ‘Spielregeln der Politik im Mittelalter’ – a collection of earlier articles – Gerd Althoff proposed that conflicts between high-medieval nobility followed a catalogue of unwritten rules and employed a tool-box of symbolic communication.

Seemingly spontaneous and emotive acts of humility and mercy were part of a carefully negotiated public communication that should allow to preserve societal order and peace. And although violence was an ever-looming option in these conflicts, it was applied in finely tuned doses and according to a pattern of step-wise escalation, always allowing parties to fall back to negotiation. The step from feuding nobility to Hanseatic cities and merchants is not as far as it may seem and so there are many #retroconflictinspirations to take away for us as well. Take for example the constant process of negotiation and the use of violence, which seldomly was allowed to reach a point where communication between parties broke off or a settlement became impossible. But there is also the role of mediators whose function Althoff has stressed as fundamental for medieval conflict management.[....]

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