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

Trading Conflict (Christ)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

Today’s #microreview is on ‘Trading Conflict. Venetian Merchants and Mamluk Officials in Late Medieval Alexandria’ by Georg Christ. The point of departure were two years of crises (1418-1420): rife with epidemics, government changes, and economic recession.

In his carefully researched and very well written book, Christ examines ensuing conflicts between Egyptians and Venetians which have been framed so far as a clash of religions and civilizations. He takes a step away from this approach. Conflicts have been defined as struggle ensuing from misunderstanding, diverging values or approaches, and overlapping interests. In their core, they were all conflicts of interests over scarce resources: a characteristic common both for the past and present, and thus also applicable for the #Hanse world. This connects very specific clashes in ‘Trading Conflicts’ (e.g. about the sultan’s pepper or with the Coptic community) to (historical) conflict studies in general. The book and discloses that there struggles ran along various lines, including class and race. To follow the lines, the study combines micro- and macro-level analyses, and as such had been one of our prime #RetroConflictsInspirations. A good point for further discussion: Christ suggests that #premoderntrade created possibilities for #trust, not the other way round. Is this the benefit of the #globalmiddleages approach?[....]

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From Usages of Merchants to Default Rules (De ruysscher)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

When looking at merchant communities residing abroad (such as ‘our’ Hansards) questions about the relation between local urban rules and trade customs quickly arise. Dave De ruysscher’s article about premodern Antwerp is today’s pick for our #RetroConflictsInspirations.

The attention of @retro_conflicts  moves from cities along the North Sea area to the Burgundian lands. With such a variety of interactions between the Hanse and the cities they trade (and often, fight legal battles) in, urban comparisons play an important part in our research. This makes insight into local legal practices essential. In 'From Usages of Merchants to Default Rules' @d_deruysscher provides such research for Antwerp. As foreign merchants increasingly sought out trade opportunities in Antwerp, they brought with them new or different approaches to merchant customs. In this thread we wonder about the influence of such developments on Antwerp's laws: did the influx of new practices lead to changes in government-made laws and if so, how?  In Antwerp, this influence ties back to the idea of "default rules". Merchant customs were not directly applied by the city, but can be considered as the "default rules" that acted as "the raw materials for jurists forging concrete measures" - the importance of university-trained jurists in Antwerp adds another local layer that should be kept in mind while comparing cities and their interactions with trade rules. [....]

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The Merchant Republics (Lindemann)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

Our #retroconflictinspirations often link to our project’s big conceptual themes, from Zwierlein on ignorance, to Lantschner on logic, to Druckner and Olekalns on negotiation. But sometimes a concrete case can be just as illuminating. This morning’s #microreview is The Merchant Republics by Mary Lindemann. It traces the early modern histories of Antwerp, Amsterdam, and Hamburg through the lens of the changing idea of the ‘merchant republic’.

The term derives from historical discourse, and it stretches back into our own late medieval period. The book explores how it came to intuitively denote a particular kind of polity. Not always economically reliant on its merchants but still led and culturally defined by them. Early modern (and medieval!) citizens of Antwerp, Hamburg, and Amsterdam fretted about their urban liberties and the decline of ‘burgher values'. Worries which offer key intellectual background for their conflict management strategies and other political behaviour. Lindemann’s study of the merchant republic concept through a delicate balance of  the particular and the universal  is compelling, and the book ends with the tantalizing question of why some cities kept identifying with Merchant Republican ideal so much longer than others. [....]

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The Logic of Political Conflict (Lantschner)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

It might be king’s day in the Netherlands but that cannot stop our urban #microreview! Today’s topic is Patrick Lantschner’s ‘The Logic of Political Conflict in Medieval Cities.’ Apart from being packed full with – sometimes overwhelming amounts of – sources and ideas, it is Lantschner’s methodological basis that provides #RetroConflictsInspirations.

Medieval cities were polycentric; they consisted of several (ooverlapping) political and legal units: neighbourhoods, guilds, factions, and so on. In such a landscape of political and legal pluralism, modern narratives of centralized order become misleading. Or: seen through the lens of urban polycentrism, conflicts in the city no longer simply appear as a disruption to an exiting order. Thus, instead of asking how conflicts were resolved and society returned to order, Lantschner concentrates on the process, on how conflicts were managed. While this idea forms a red threat in our project (as in previous microreviews), Lantschner’s focus on polycentrism could also provide new ideas for looking at the #Hanse which in its own way resists concepts of order and centralization.[....]

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Punctuated Negotiations (Druckman & Olekalns)

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

Historians of conflicts study change. Today’s #microreview focuses on acute moments of change, namely turning points, as viewed by the social sciences. In negotiations, turning points happen when a conflict issue is being reframed, according to Daniel Druckman and Mara Olekalns (2013).

One of the ways to reach it is a skilled use of interruptions and timeouts because they create momentum and make salient pieces of information stand out. Another one is creating so-called anchoring events which defy expectations, e.g. through surprise. This approach can be useful when evaluating the course of #diplomatictalks, for instance in both external and internal Hanseatic conflicts: we do repeatedly see such ‘punctuated negotiations’. Again, the importance of negotiators/#conflictmanagers  comes to the fore: they need(ed) to be resilient, adaptable and ‘open to the present moment’. And be willing to take risks, every now and then. Timeless skills.[....]

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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.[....]

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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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