‘Social Sites – Öffentliche Räume – Lieux d’échanges 1300-1800’
An Academic Network of Historians
at the Universities of Dresden, Paris I and Warwick
‘Time’ and ‘space’ provide basic categories of historical analysis. Scholars use them as a matter of course, if often in an implicit and unreflected manner. Within the various strands of European historiography, spatial dimensions appear in many different contexts, reflecting diverging scientific and political traditions. On the whole, ‘essentialist’ concepts such as the German Landesgeschichte, the French pays historiques or the English ‘county community’ tended to dominate over analytical approaches, e.g. regional analysis, experimentation with the effet d'échelle or awareness of the social nature of space.
Recently, however, social and cultural studies have experienced a ‘spatial turn’. Space-related research seems ever expanding: some historians relate macroeconomics and human agency to regional contexts; others focus on micro-spaces like houses, taverns and parish churches; even virtual or imaginary spaces (such as Purgatory) attract increasing attention. In all of these works, space emerges as a social construct rather than a mere physical unit. Increasing historiographical interest, furthermore, coincides with new conceptualizations of space in the social sciences. Here, too, absolute concepts of space give way to more analytical and relational approaches, i.e. a growing awareness that space is socially constructed rather than simply given. These developments form the background for our collaborative project.
The international academic network ‘Social sites – Öffentliche Räume – Lieux d’échanges’ engages with these interdisciplinary tendencies in three workshops:
Workshop I: Political Space in Preindustrial Europe (Warwick 2005)
Workshop II: Religious Space in Preindustrial Europe (Dresden 2006)
Workshop III: Economic Space in Preindustrial Europe (Aix-en-Provence 2007)
Workshop titles indicate thematic guidelines rather than sharp demarcations between these interrelated fields. All three sessions strive to place perceptions and conceptualizations of space in a historical context, both in terms of applying current scholarly concepts of space to specific historical periods and in terms of retrieving perceptions and social construction of space in the past. On the one hand, therefore, the workshops will investigate conceptualizations of space in disciplines such as sociology and geography or, more generally, the potential of various spatial approaches to gain and/or re-evaluate historical knowledge. On the other hand, we are interested in – explicit or implicit – understandings of space in past societies: what kinds of spatial perceptions emerge from late medieval and early modern learned discourses, e.g. debates in theology, political and economic theory, optics, geometry and architecture? How did the new sciences affect learned and popular ideas about space? To what extent can social practices illuminate contemporary perceptions of space? However, on top of investigating abstract ideas, we would like to discuss the ways in which social practices influenced the construction of space. Geographically and chronologically, the network focuses on Europe and its neighbouring areas from the late Middle Ages to the eve of the modern period.