It is well documented in recent scholarship that densely urbanized and politically decentralized regions such as the pre-industrial Low Countries were the scene of vibrant inter-city competition (‘t Hart & van der Heijden 2009; Blockmans 2010). This competition could take on many different shapes: towns tried to surpass their neighbor towns by constructing higher cathedrals, higher belfries or more impressive city halls built in the latest fashion. In the late 15th and early 16th century a dynasty of builders-architects, like the Keldermans cleverly capitalized on this competitive spirit of urban politicians to emulate their neighbours (Janse & van Mosselveld 1987). But competition was not only expressed in impressive buildings or fine works of art. Guilds from different towns competed continuously with each other: rhetoricians’ chambers competed with each other in inter-city contests –the so-called “landjuwelen”, but also shooting guilds like crossbow or handbow guilds from different towns met each other regularly (Arnade 1996, Van Bruaene 2008; Crombie 2013). The princes in the Low Countries were even actively participating sometimes in these interurban contests. But also other, more formal, political events of the prince became tools for competitions. In the so-called Joyous Entries, when a new prince arrived in his city, the subject towns equally sought to express their wealth, magnificence and power, while preferably also emulating other towns. A recent account of the political economy of trade in the Low Countries even singled out urban fragmentation and inter-city competition as the engine of institutional change: commercial cities needed to adapt their institutions and policies to “footloose” merchants who could move to other cities where conditions were more to the merchants’ liking (Gelderblom 2013). Competition often went hand in glove with emulation: cities eagerly copied from their neighbors. Yet, such competition was not always harmonious and in several instances it lapsed into outright violence and civil war.
Not only the Low Countries have been put forward as a region of intense inter-city competition. Recent surveys of European urban history have equally singled out other regions where geographical proximity and urban density became drivers of competition which in turn fuelled European urban development (Clark 2009, Clark (ed.) 2013). To our modern minds, this does not come as a surprise, accustomed as we are to modern-day European cities competing in the frame of globalization and in all kinds of annual competitions (gay-friendliest city, best public infrastructure, best touristic infrastructure, most pleasant city to live, etc.).
Urban history often invokes urban competition as an important variable but urban historians usually remain rather vague about the specifics and dynamics of the process. The question remains to what extent such dynamic inter-city competition and its resultant effects materialized in other regions which had different degrees and shapes of urbanization, market integration and different political systems. It is therefore important to consider inter-city competition in other, preferably non-European, regions which were very different from European regions in terms of urbanization, urban geographic proximity, political organization, the coercive power of cities, and market integration (for China: Pomeranz 2000; Rosenthal & Bin Wong 2011; for India: Parthasarathi 2011).
Who were the actors behind inter-city competition and what did they seek to gain from it? Were the effects of competition always beneficial? To keep the session focused we limit ourselves to the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period.
This session has two aims:
- Compare inter-city competition between regions. We strongly encourage paper proposals on urban competition in non-European regions, in particular in the Mamluk, Ottoman, Indian and Chinese empires and in the New World. By doing so we want to evaluate the relation between urban density, political organization and urban competition.
- Flesh out the forms, characteristics and dynamics of inter-city competition by comparing different modes of competition. We welcome paper proposals on political, economic and cultural forms of inter-city competition and encourage the authors to compare different modes of competition in one region.
Those requiring additional information and/or interested in submitting a paper proposal (deadline 31 October 2015) can contact Jeroen Puttevils (firstname.lastname@example.org). Unfortunately, the session organizers cannot provide funding for travel.