EAUH Conference 2018


Session M03. Fragmented Cities: Governance, Citizenship and Urban Renewal in Premodern Eurasia (1200-1700)

Coordinators: Amy Singer (, Peter Stabel (, Arie Van Steensel (

One of the great narratives in urban history is that self-government has stimulated urban agency and economic development. In Europe, it is claimed, political competition led to a competitive playing field, in which new ideas about citizenship, governance, and political participation could flourish. In polities with strong state control, such a dynamic playing field could not develop. Historians have in the meantime nuanced this hypothesis, while others have pointed at strong differences within each of the polities. Cities in both Europe and Asia were by nature fragmented entities, where no single authority (centralized states, local lords or city governments) was able if only logistically to control the urban social fabric, let alone monopolize political decision making. The session tackles the issue of fragmented authority and its consequences for the notions of citizenship and governance across the Eurasian continent. Starting point is the idea that strong centralized government was very difficult, even when allegedly strong local authorities were concerned. In Europe territorial liberties, feudal and ecclesiastical, provided competitive institutions, guild loyalties and jurisdictions were crucial in creating a fragmented body politic that depended upon permanent bargaining procedures and, of course, there was state-city competition, all creating a framework in which subjects often depended on often different sets of rules. In the Islamic world endowments, waqf, linked with charity, but also with the urban social and economic fabric, provided different sets of rules, loyalties and spatial dynamics. Elsewhere on the Eurasian continent relations between local power structures and state institutions were again organized differently. The key question, then, is how these different legal, social and/or political identities affected the agency of town dwellers and their identities, and practices of governance.
This fragmented nature of cities was particularly at stake when processes of urban renewal were concerned and processes of negotiation among different interest groups became essential. The different levels of urban authority all developed policies in the face of demands from subjects, citizens and others who harboured expectations about the responsibilities of each of these authorities. By exploring these political and social dynamics of urban renewal defined in a broad sense as the collective efforts of (groups of) urbanites to improve the cultural, economic, social and environmental conditions of city life , the panel will present case studies that link the efforts of different authorities, the role of experts, the circulation of knowledge, and the ways different urban interest groups interacted with different kinds of authority. The aim is to answer the question as to how these interactions shaped political decision-making, citizenship and identities, and renewal processes in in the cities of premodern Eurasia.
Keywords: multiple authority; Eurasia; premodern; citizenship; urban renewal