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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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

The darker angels of our nature (ed. Dwyer and Micale)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

Steven Pinker’s ‘The better angels of our nature’ painted an optimistic picture of the decline of violence in our modern world: the historical perspective was to demonstrate that we have come to grips with dark inclinations. The civilizing progress of Norbert Elias, once again. It’s a perspective we would like to believe, but is it true?

The current news upends it when it comes to the 21st century. In today’s #microreview, the superb ‘The darker angels of our nature’ (2022), the historians who wrote the 18 chapters argue that violence in the past centuries is a far more complex topic than Pinker assumed. There are many methodological points to be raised, e.g. his use of statistics of deaths over long periods of time, and without context. From our #conflictmanagement point of view, one of the major issues is the definition of violence: it does not and did not only equal homicide, which Pinker presented as a proxy. Violence encompasses nonlethal forms like injuries, humiliation, sexual and verbal violence. This broad spectrum still exists, and it certainly occurred in the past. Another point is that such violence was not simply accepted: laws, legal procedures or treaties on good behaviour show societies wanted to curb it. The premodern days were not just the bad example against which the modern time can cut a good figure. The volume shows that in order to understand human violence and our ways of dealing with it, specific historical cases (and the news) have to be analysed in their context. Few angels appear, but it clear that people see, reflect on - and act on violence.[....]

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Common good and private justice (Beck)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

Today’s #microreview turns towards Christopher Beck’s article ‘Common good and private justice: letters of marque and the utilitas publica in fourteenth-century Marseilles’ which provides a fascinating case study about a medieval municipality navigating between political thought, the urban market, private property rights, and the common good.

Throughout late medieval Western Europe, marques presented an instrument of legal enforcement, especially for merchants. Municipal governments could grant the seizure of foreign goods in their city to compensate open debts or other claims against actors outside of their jurisdiction. Yet, over the course of 14th century, the council of Marseilles several times suspended its citizens’ marques for economic and diplomatic reasons: Open marques could dissuade foreign merchants to travel to Marseille and hindered the influx to the city’s market. They could also let the city appear as contentious and not led according to the ideal of peace. Publicly, the town council justified the suspensions and thus the neglect of its own burghers’ property rights with the common good of the community, reflecting learned discourse about just government. The issues pointed out by Beck also applied to Hanseatic city councils which had to balance individual interests not only with the common good of the city but also with the common good of the #Hanse. Not just in light of recent political debates, it seems worthwhile reminding that the question of how a society negotiates the relation between public and private interests is not an invention of modernity.[....]

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Power politics and princely debts: why Germany's common currency failed, 1549–56 (Volckart)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

After taking a few weeks off to report on the #historyinconflict webinar, we’re back with our #retroconflictinspirations #microreview series. For our first review, we’re looking at Oliver Volckart’s 2017 article on Charles V’s failure to unify his Empire’s currency.

By the sixteenth century, the Holy Roman Empire’s overlapping coinage jurisdictions had produced acute problems. Not least, the ‘trade in coinage’: Coins of high material value from some states were frequently exported to neighbouring mints as raw material lower value coins. The trade drove conflict in the Empire. Bavaria, Swabia, and Franconia all complained about it, as did the Salzburg's bishop and Hamburg's magistrates. The trade, they said, devalued coins throughout the Empire, violating a key value of premodern politics, ‘the common good’. Standardizing exchange rates between the coins was an appealing fix for this issue, but required coordination among the Empire’s estates. Volckart argues that the inability to reconcile non-monetary conflicts between estates was the main driver of this project’s failure. Previous research identified conflict over the value of coins as key to the project's failure, pitting silver producing estates against those reliant on imports. Others saw weak imperial political institutions at the heart of the failure. For Volckart, the root conflict lies elsewhere. Following the Schmalkaldic War, the silver-producers’ were more confident that Charles could enforce coinage reform, so were prepared to make concessions on value. Meanwhile, imperial institutions were more effective negotiators in the lead up to the 1551 Currency Bill than was previously assumed. What undermined the single currency project was not conflict over the monetary questions themselves, but the intrusion of other conflicts. The Emperor and his allies wanted to press their advantage and use the issue to weaken their enemy Saxony by devaluing its currency, the Thaler. But, when Charles’ conversion system was introduced, the Saxon Thaler’s face value was significantly lower than its real value. Merchants thus preferred it to the overvalued Imperial Guldiner, and Saxon authorities didn’t enforce the exchange rate between the coins, leading the system to collapse. Volckart’s article is a powerful illustration of how conflict in one domain can spread to another as actors seek new strategies to manage the situation to their advantage. [....]

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