EAUH Conference 2018


Session SS06. Golden Ages around the North Sea. Urban planning, Architecture and the Rise and Fall of Urban Systems 1100-1800

Coordinators: Jaap Evert Abrahamse (, Heidi Deneweth (

From the material culture of the early Middle Ages onwards, it is clear that settlements on all sides of the North Sea were connected. Intensive maritime trade connected the economies of the coastal areas of the Low Countries, Britain, Germany and Scandinavia. Until the sixteenth century, the largest towns and main economic centres, such as Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp, were located in Flanders. From the late sixteenth century a clear and rapid shift took place towards the emerging Dutch Republic, where Rotterdam and especially Amsterdam were on the rise. At the end of the seventeenth century, the centre of gravity moved to England, where London became the centre of a great colonial empire. All of these cities were part of larger urban systems, formed by port cities and industrial centres.
We have extensive literature about urbanization, town planning and architecture on the coasts of the North Sea. Most of our knowledge however has a strong local focus, although townscapes and both public and private buildings show striking similarities between Flemish, Dutch, and English towns, for example Bruges, Middelburg, Veere, Norwich, Boston and King’s Lynn. This session intends to bring together and confront these histories to formulate new research questions about knowledge transfer in the field of town planning, architecture and construction.
The leading question would be how the North Sea functioned not so much as the divide between regions, but as the main connection, the infrastructure providing the possibilities for an intensive exchange of people, goods and knowledge. Both the cultural exchange itself, in the fields of planning history and architecture and the underlying supra-regional networks of trade and patronage that determine the urban pattern and the layout and appearance of towns, are important subjects in this session.
Keywords: North Sea; urban systems; port cities; cultural exchange; architecture; urbanism; town planning