Patterns of Urbanization during the Middle Ages: A Comparative Approach of Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia

Lecture by Prof. Dr. Peter Stabel (Antwerp) on 17 January 2023, 7 pm

In his lecture, Peter Stabel will discuss the different urban trajectories in the Middle Ages in Latin Europe, the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic worlds. The business of historians, and foremost of urban historians, is to compare how urban models and societies developed and why they took particular paths. Yet comparative history, and its twin sister entangled history, are still lacking a true theoretical framework: they still depend very much on Weberian idealtypes, and the level of analysis defines also to a large extent whether patterns can be identified and whether similar or dissimilar patterns can be acknowledged. Observing from nearby everything seems to be different, looking from high up, everything looks the same. This is particularly true for the analysis of urban systems in the Middle Ages in Latin Europe, the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic worlds. To a certain extent all three regions have been defined by a heritage dating back to the classical world of Greeks, Romans and Persians, yet different chronologies, geographical circumstances, political cultures, and economic exchange have not only caused strong regional variety, but they have also steered the three broad historic-geographical areas to often very different urban trajectories. The lecture will explore in broad strokes some elements that have defined those urban trajectories in the medieval period: 1° urban space and the built environment, 2° centrifugal and centripetal forces linked to urban governance, and 3° corporative organization and the organisation of the urban economy.

Peter Stabel teaches medieval history at the University of Antwerp and is the director of the Centre for Urban History at the University of Antwerp, one of the leading research centres on urban history in Europe. He published widely on various aspect of late medieval social, economic and cultural history. Among his recent publications figure The Fabric of the City. A Social History of Cloth Manufacture in Medieval Ypres (Brepols 2022), Nearby Thoughts, Faraway Lands. Late Medieval Pilgrim Narratives from the Low Countries (University of Pennsylvania Press, forthcoming) and A Capital of Fashion. Guilds and Economic Change in Late Medieval Bruges (Oxford University Press, forthcoming). He is currently writing a comparative urban history of Latin Europe, the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic Worlds during the Middle Ages (350–1550).

The lecture by Prof. Dr. Peter Stabel will be held in person in Zeichensaal, Lehrgebäude 2C at BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg. It can also be followed online via zoom. The link for online participation will be available on the homepage of RTG on the day of the lecture.


Albrecht Wiesener
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