Overview of microreviews:
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.
Search in microreviews and other website content: https://premodernconflictmanagement.org/search
Overview of microreviews:
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. [....]
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. [....]
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.[....]
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.[....]
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. [....]
Today’s microreview is about a highly interesting volume, ‘Cultures of Conflict Resolution in #EarlyModern Europe’ (2016), edited by Stephen Cummins and @laurakounine. It frames conflicts and their management as accounts of change, and in particular discusses the lasting impact of John Bossy’s legal anthropological ‘Disputes and Settlements’ (1983).
Several contributions take issue with the notion of diminishing violence in the course of history, as posited by Norbert Elias and more recently by Steven Pinker. There are three main themes: peacemaking as practice; varieties of early modern mediation and arbitration; the roles of criminal law in interpersonal conflict. From the point of view of our project, one of the captivating insights is that #conflictresolution was not always positive and consensual, but rather ‘a product of domination and reinforcement of inequality.’ Another is a reminder of Simon Roberts’ statement that the distinction between mediator and adjudicator should be seen as a continuum, not a rigid typology. An article to be highlighted: John Jordan’s very clear historiographical overview of the application legal anthropology is of use for many #twitterstorians, especially for future avenues of research: the role of violence, global approaches, #legalpluralism, the shift from the urban to the rural, and attention to #legalism. [....]
Considering that it is time for the year’s final #microreview, it seems appropriate to become emotional. However, since this project is about conflict, the chosen emotion is anger. In 1998, Barbara H. Rosenwein, edited a collection of articles under the title ‘Anger’s Past – The Social Uses of an Emotion in the Middle Ages.’
Instead of discussing the thematically broad individual contributions, we draw our #RetroConflictsInspirations from the varied, sometimes disagreeing interpretations of anger they provide. Emotions were and are an integral part of conflict but pose a particular challenge to historians: how are we to interpret anger when we encounter it in our sources? The contributions to ‘Anger’s Past’ provide us with several options, ranging from earnest emotions to anger as a carefully chosen ‘signaling tool’ in dispute. Taken together, however, the articles remind us to not construct a strict dichotomy between emotion and rationality. A merchant could be truly embittered by a cheating trading-partners and simultaneously instrumentalize this sentiment at court. A king’s angry outburst at a diplomatic meeting could be an earnest emotion while at the same time serve political functions.[....]
We’re mostly into the qualitative side of #conflict here at retroconflicts, but a little quantification can be useful to grasp the scale and consequences of historical urban conflict. That’s why today’s #retroconflictinspiration #microreview is about the work of Fabian Wahl.
Wahl’s 2019 article ‘Political Participation and Economic Development’ set out to answer a simple but important #econhist question: which urban political institutions contribute to economic growth. To do so, Wahl investigated 3 ‘participative’ institutions across 282 cities. His three institutions are 1) guild representation in the council 2) citizen representation alongside the council (e.g greater- or outer-councils) and 3) the selection of councilors by election, even if only with a very limited franchise. In line with Sheilagh Ogilvie’s research, Wahl finds no evidence for guild government strengthening economic growth, and in the medieval period it may even have been harmful. Representatives outside the council likewise had no demonstrable effect on growth.
As these two institutions did not make economic contributions, Wahl argues, they must have arisen for other purposes. The most likely explanation, he suggests, is the management of conflict between different social groups involved in urban politics, as proposed by Acemoglu.[....]
Management of long-distance trade often led to complex networks and with them, unique challenges for the individuals involved. Today’s choice for #RetroConflictsInspirations is a study of Scottish networks in the early-modern Atlantic build around the export of Madeira wine.
In his 2005 article 'The Trouble with Networks. Managing the Scots' Early-Modern Madeira Trade', David J. Hancock turns our attention to a part of network literature that had, until then, been neglected: 'the troubles networks created for members'. Revisiting this critical approach underlines the double-edged sword of trade networks. The Madeira trade networks were solutions to familiar premodern problems of distance, transportation and communication. Here, we find recurring themes from our #microreviews: reputation, trust and reciprocal relationships. Specifically, the focus on network 'memory' and reputation in this study deserves further attention. A trader’s reputation (e.g., his connections or trustworthiness) could be the key to unlocking more opportunities, but failure/mismanagement of his network led to sanctions and exclusion. Network memory could also fail or provide incorrect assessments, leading traders to agreements with partners turned out to be ‘a bad investment’. Maintaining the advantages of networks required careful & continuous management; any failure led to new challenges to overcome. [....]