IMC 2007: Sessions

Session 1701: Medieval Cities: Retrospect, Aspect, and Prospect - A Round Table Discussion

Thursday 12 July 2007, 14.00-16.30

Organisers:Derek Keene, Centre for Metropolitan History, Institute of Historical Research, University of London
Axel E. W. Müller, Institute for Medieval Studies, University of Leeds
Moderator/Chair:Derek Keene, Centre for Metropolitan History, Institute of Historical Research, University of London

Every year the IMC includes a Special Thematic Strand in addition to its regular 35 strands. The Special Thematic Strand for 2007, ‘Medieval Cities’, is the most successful to date, contributing a total of 183 sessions on most aspects of urban living in Europe and beyond. This session aims to encourage general reflection on ‘Medieval Cities’, grounded in the experience of the congress and assessing the current state of knowledge and future prospects.

For more than 10,000 years cities have been among the most important institutions underpinning order and continuity in human affairs. In Europe, during the Middle Ages, towns and cities became more numerous and more significant than ever before, picking up from a low ebb in urban life at the beginning of the period. They provided material and ideological links with the past, helped to shape new systems of social and political order, served as sites of economic and cultural exchange and development, and for many had a cosmological significance. Their role in shaping the modern world has been immense and still continues. Reflecting the character of the city itself, its study is marked by a wide variety of approaches, often of a transdisciplinary nature. Many such studies, even of medieval cities, are productively informed by preoccupations concerning the modern world.

Among questions and issues to be addressed in the discussion are:

What have been the disciplinary concerns of the papers the congress? How do they relate to older historical or urban-historical agendas? What are the prospects for developing new approaches, theoretical or evidential? Have some topics and approaches been neglected? Are disciplinary boundaries a problem?

What is our current state of knowledge? How has that developed in recent years? And where are current studies leading us?

How does our knowledge of cities in medieval Europe compare with that of cities in other periods and in other parts of the world? What might we learn from such comparisons? Where does the ‘medieval city’ sit in ‘global history’?

What can an understanding of medieval cities contribute to knowledge of the modern world and to the management and future prospects of its cities? It is noteworthy, for example, that when modern commentators and policy-makers in urban affairs draw on history they usually ignore the medieval period (despite its productive and influential nature) and in any case misinterpret their history. Should medievalists develop a mission in this area and establish alliances with colleagues in other periods?