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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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
https://www.academia.edu/26608966/Book_The_Dark_Side_of_Knowledge_Histories_of_Ignorance. [....]

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Contesting the City (Liddy)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

Last week, several history-students at the @UvA_Humanities  valiantly faced their oral B.A. literature exams. Among the books discussed was also one of our #RetroConflictsInspirations: Christian D. Liddy’s ‘Contesting the City’. In vivid discussions, many students summarized the main argument of the book along the following lines: English citizenship was an inherently contested concept.

If citizens were equal by oath and constitution how could some of them legitimize their rule over the rest? Tracking the voices and actions of citizens, councils, and mayors in the public sphere – in space, time, and communication – Liddy shows that we should not consider conflict as a mere disturbance to a generally accepted top-down oligarchic rule. Instead, conflicts were common to the anything but static urban political thought and practice. Here we can tie his thoughts to our research: did Hanseatic burghers and merchants consider conflicts in and around their cities unanimously as disturbances to economic, political, and social order? Or should we maybe allow medieval burghers and merchants more differentiated views of their world? [....]

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Diplomacy from below (Morieux)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

For today’s #RetroConflictsInspirations, we turn our attention to the Channel – a familiar sight for those Hansards traveling to w-European cities and markets – and the language of belonging. For this, we move forward to the 18th c., and Renaud Morieux’s article re: fishermen.

It is specifically the aspect of a deliberate, outward expression of belonging that catches our attention. By itself, 'belonging to the Hanse' is already elusive. How does one, after all, define an inter-regional group sharing privileges, but not common property or a leader? Especially a group that expressed a fluid language of belonging in diplomatic/legal interactions, sometimes claiming a shared burden, or ignoring it all together. The language of belonging, as Morieux rightfully observes, changes with the circumstances. With the Hanse abroad we see this as well: language of defining, be it national or mercantile identity, goes beyond something a concept imposed upon an entire group. It is often a deliberate strategy to be used, and therefore something that fluidity serves well: "In order to back several horses at the same time, [the fishermen of the Channel] always maintained a deliberate ambiguity in their national allegiances." A conclusion very applicable to the Hansards balancing their loyalties to cities of origin, communities abroad & networks. Many attempts to impose a definition of who legally 'belongs' can be found in Hanseatic history, e.g. by foreign rulers or as required by negotiations following large-scale conflicts, but strategies of belonging were often the tools of those acting upon diplomacy from below.[....]

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Tage (Courts, Councils and Diets) (Hardy)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

Another Monday, another #RetroConflictsInspirations! Diets of Hanseatic cities have been a central – and highly debated – object of research but for a long time, historians have treated them as a rather isolated and Hanse-specific phenomenon. However, @Duncan Hardy’s concise intervention on political Tage in the Holy Roman Empire suggests a more comparative approach: diets – in the form of arbitrational courts, associative meetings, or representative assemblies – were the primary form of political interaction in the medieval Empire, encompassing political units and actors from small town to the Emperor.

Such a comparative approach may not only help us to place the Hanse stronger within a medieval context but also to cast light on the diets’ role in conflict management. Hanseatic diets combined elements of arbitration, association, and representation, each aimed at handling diplomatic as well as legal conflicts, not only in the official meetings but also in ‘unofficial’ gatherings in hostels and inns. To give one prominent example for comparison: the practice of delaying contentious matters, often perceived by historians as a peculiar ‘hinderance’ to Hanseatic politics, can also be found in the meetings between Swiss cities and appear to have helped preventing escalation. [....]

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Trust: a Sociological Theory (Sztompka)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

‘Trust: a sociological theory’ by Piotr Sztompka is a treasure trove both for social scientists and historians working on #trust relations, including #conflict management. By now a classic, it shows both what the fundamental ideas are and how to work creatively with the fuzzy notion of trust.

Three aspects can be highlighted in the context of our project. 1) The heightened need of trust goes hand in hand with the growing complexity of a society or situation, now or in the past. This allows us to look at the discourse of trust in conflict management from a new angle. 2) Trust towards institutions, very much needed in complex settings, is actually trust towards people behind them. Even when institutional terms are used for shortcut, whether it’s a court of law or (urban) government, we know in the present and our ancestors knew in the past who is/was specifically referred to. 3) Trust is an attempt to control the future, but it rests on the past. A thoughtful and many-sided analysis of past interactions is needed. This is especially valid for conflicts, large and small. This means in our view that actually everyone can make good use of skills of historians, even in everyday life. Not only #twitterstorians understand the 16th c quote ‘And loke that you truste nonne but that you know be surre’.[....]

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Between sea and city: portable communities in late medieval London and Bruges (Spindler)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

In our project, we follow the Hanse from their cities of origin to their communities abroad. The latter aspect will be today’s #RetroConflictsInspirations: we will discuss the Hanse in Bruges through the framework of Erik Spindler’s approach to ‘portable communities’.

He directs our attention in “Between sea and city” to mobile communities in port towns, incl. social groups within the Hanse that remained abroad for a short-term i.e.: “[communities] made up of people whose social and professional lives were clearly oriented towards the sea". ‘Portable communities’, in this sense, lacked a strong geographical component, the community they belonged to was more important than the town they traded in/travelled through. The key feature: the ability of their members to carry with them their membership of the community. The chapter pays close attention to aspects of mutual support; perception by outsiders; and sharing information in these communities – combining these in its concluding case study of the 1402 execution of Hanseatic captain Tidekin van der Heyde in Sluis, an event followed by a symbolic dispute started by the Hanse, after belatedly receiving the news, leading to his posthumous rehabilitation/reburial & public acts of remembrance by two Hanseatic social groups: the Kontor aldermen and 'other Germans, both captains and others’. The chapter combines a Hanse/Flanders conflict (with discussions re: privileges' protection), the often changing 'portable communities' travelling along medieval trade routes and the rhetoric of shared identity in Bruges, expanding beyond merchants supporting merchants.
Spindler, E., ‘Between sea and city: portable communities in late medieval London and Bruges’, in: Davies, M., and A.J. Galloway, London and beyond: Essays in honour of Derek Keene (London 2012).[....]

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Reichsstädtische Außenbeziehungen in der Frühen Neuzeit (Krischer)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

Today we’re reviewing André Krischer’s ‘Reichsstädtische Außenbeziehungen in der Frühen Neuzeit’, which appeared in the 2018 collection ‘Neue Stadtgeschichte(n). Die Reichsstadt Frankfurt im Vergleich’ edited by Schmidt-Funke and Schnettger #RetroConflictInspirations.

It offers an excellent account of how, in Frankfurt and elsewhere, Imperial Cities actively pursued diplomatic contact, which has left a rich set of sources on diplomatic travel and on cities' correspondence with the Imperial court, nearby states, and other cities. Drawing on Thiessen and Windler (2010), Krischer shows how the perspective of foreign policy in its modern sense offers us less when thinking about Imperial Cities than the concept of ‘Außenbeziehungen’, which better captures the social component of early modern politics. He emphasizes that ‘Außenbeziehungen’, by foregrounding agency and relationships, addresses the asymmetries of the period’s politics, an idea also important for our project as we consider cities in conflict with states, the Empire, the Hanse, and with one another. The ceremonial part of cities’ relationships is important here too. Despite challenges for urban republics trying to fit in to a society of princes, ceremonial interaction allowed them to carve out a political niche, which opened up new strategies for conflict management.[....]

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Trust in Long-Distance Relationships (Forrest & Haour)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

Sometimes it is difficult to do justice to an article in our #RetroConflictsInspirations, when it is as rich as Ian Forrest’s and Anne Haour’s contribution to the history of trust. For now, let us focus on their answer to one popular question: How did pre-modern merchants overcome challenges of long distance trade?

Generally, trust serves as a central component for explaining pre-modern trade since it reduced the risk and contingency of dealing with far-off, unmonitored partners. Much less effort, however, is taken to explain trust itself. Often, it is treated as given, resulting naturally from merchants’ common culture, i.e. common language, kinship, and faith. Yet, by turning to individual actors and their practices on a micro-level, Haour and Forrest suggest a reversal of perspective. ‘We might say that the work of creating trust was the work of creating culture. It was a matter of skills, knowledge, practices and learning, rather than possession of some essential similarities.’ Creating and preserving trust required constant attention and fostering on an individual level through language and performance, making it a core-competence for successful merchants. When we consider trust a main component of conflict-prevention and the central role trust-related language played in Hanseatic communication, the inspiration to #retroconflicts is clear. [....]

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The Material Letter (Daybell)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

The sources documenting premodern conflicts have a specific materiality. Sometimes they are council books, sometimes legal proceedings or reports from embassies and meetings. Yet very often, they are letters.

In today’s #RetroConflictsInspirations, we take a look at ‘The Material Letter in early modern England’ (2012) by @JamesDaybell. He draws attention to interesting choices in letter writing: tools, conventions, ways of posting letters, keeping them (partially) secret or copying them. These were certainly not random, but instead all constituted a thoughtful part of the communication. The focus in the book is primarily on letters in diplomatic (elite) exchange or in connection to military operations in England, but the observations are just as applicable to mercantile letters and correspondence between city councils. For instance, we can add that cryptography occurred also in the Hanse area. Around 1558, a Hanseatic father provided his son with a code where the English Queen Mary, the Reichskammergericht and the Polish King were referred to in symbols. While not as common yet as in diplomatic exchanges and in later times, such peeks from sources show that Hansards were aware of the epistolary possibilities.[....]

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Urban networks and emerging states (Blockmans & Heerma van Voss)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

This #RetroConflictsInspirations takes a step back from individual Hanseatic case studies (which currently has a leading role in the daily research of today's @retro_conflicts's twitterstorian), and looks at the geographical and cultural context of the North Sea & Baltics, and themes of natural boundaries & human agency, as inspired by the discussion in Blockmans & Heerma van Voss, ‘Urban networks and emerging states’ (in particular pp.10-16) where the concept of a N-Sea culture is placed alongside the impact of urban networks specifically N-Sea & Baltic coastal cities as "nodal points of an area characterized by intensive exchanges, cultural interaction, competition and innovation."

This connection to the sea remains a central point, as demonstrated by referencing F. Braudel re: the Mediterranean being, despite its natural boundaries, a man-made entity, as "[it] has no unity but that created by the movements of men, the relationships they imply, and the routes they follow". This focus on cultural links, urban networks & geography is, of course, important in Hanseatic research, just as the authors' thoughts on the matter: "[...] it seems very difficult to isolate [N-Sea Culture] either from its Baltic or Atlantic connections. If anything, the overlap between the two economic systems … may then circumscribe the specific North Sea Culture." [....]

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