Session at EAA Conference, Helsinki (August 2012)

Life in the City: Environmental and Artefactual Approaches to Urban Europe in the Middle Ages

Organisers: Ben Jervis (English Heritage; UK), Lee Broderick (University of York; UK) and Idoia Grau-Sologestoa (University of the Basque Country; Spain)

Traditional approaches to the study of Medieval urbanism have focused upon the reconstruction of town plans and the study of trade and craft activity. The wider potential of environmental and artefactual remains has not been fully realised. The aim of this session is to explore the range of insights that detailed study of these remains can provide in exploring, for example:
– The levels of similarity and difference between urban and rural living. Did a continuum or a dichotomy emerge through everyday life in these different environments? How did engagements with objects and the environment contribute to a uniquely urban existence?
– Did urbanism foster a worldview in which similar material and environmental objects generated different symbolic meanings?
– How did experiences of urban life vary between individuals and households, based, for example, on their wealth, ethnicity, gender or profession?
– How did experiences of urban life vary between towns, for example, through the exposure of members of their population to international influences?
– The level of mutual dependence between urban and rural communities. How interdependent were towns and their hinterlands and cities and their regions (including smaller towns)?
– How can artefactual and/or environmental evidence help us understand the social structure of towns and cities?
The range of papers in this session will not only allow us to explore these themes using a variety of evidence, but to consider regional and temporal differences in experiences of urban life across Europe. Papers which combine different strands of evidence, to explore the role of artefactual and/or environmental assemblages in answering these questions are particularly encouraged. By moving beyond the characterisation of urban landscapes, this session will begin to question what it was to be urban in Medieval Europe, whether a single conceptualisation of this phenomenon can be reached, or if instead the study of this material leads to an acknowledgement of heterogeneity.

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