2019 – Small Cities and Environment

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Small Cities and Environment (from the Middle Ages to Contemporary Times)

  The international conference Small Cities and Environment (from the Middle Ages to Contemporary Times) will be held in Castelo de Vide (Portugal) between 14 and 16 March 2019. Its organisation is the result of a joint initiative by the Small Cities in Time Network, Castelo de Vide Local Authority, the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences at the New University of Lisbon (Institute of Medieval Studies, Humanities Centre, Institute of Contemporary History) and the School of Hispanic and Iberian Studies (Casa de Velázquez, Madrid), through the CIDADES programme.   The subject proposed for this conference sets out from the principal that the «environment» (in the twin sense of «nature» and «area surrounding a locality») provides small cities (and all human organisation) with amenities, possible benefits and probably also restrictions, above all for societies in ancient times. In the opposite direction, small cities have an impact on this environment, both inside the built-up area and in the surrounding land. Learning about and exploring the amenities, on one hand, becoming aware of the restrictions and impacts and elaborating solutions to rectify them, on the other, concern both the political sphere (and therefore cultural, including religious aspects) and the economic sphere.   It is known that environmental history, recognized as such, was initially developed in the United States in the early 1970s (foundation of the Environmental History Review in 1976 and the American Society for Environmental History in 1977). This new area was in fact implemented in Europe in the 90s (in England, in 1995, Richard Grove created the Environment and History journal and the European Society for Environmental History was founded in 1999). In Germany, Joachim Radkau reflected on the combination of ecology and power relations (Radkau, 2000). In France, the environmental history movement has been expressed from 2009 in special editions of historical journals. Also in Portugal and Spain, historiography did not neglect this field of studies, as demonstrated by recent research projects.   Having been a prominent area of research for a considerable time in the contemporary period, it was subsequently joined by historians of the first modern times (XVI-XVII) and later by medievalists. Syntheses about epistemological and historiographical evolutions have recently been published (Fressoz et alii, 2014 and Quénet, 2014; Guimarães, Amorim, 2016; Ortega, 2016) with modern and contemporary times predominating, but also looking back to medieval times (Hoffmann, 2014 and Mouthon, 2017).   Our proposal is situated at the confluence – which we consider original – of two recent fields of research: environmental history (Delort, Walter, 2001: Burke, Pommeranz, 2009), particularly urban environmental history (Bernhardt, 2001; Massard-Guillebaud, 2007) and the study of small cities (Poussou; Loupès, 1987; Clark, 1995; Costa, Andrade and Tente, 2017).   Indeed, if urban environmental history appears in a chapter of around 40 pages in the work by Quénet (Quénet, 2014), the category of small cities is absent, just as it remains as the poor relation in the majority of more specialized studies … yet many urban monographs on small and medium-sized cities include excerpts, developed to a greater or lesser extent, which seem connected to urban environmental history and represent a rich source, however scattered and difficult to access.   It is legitimate to ask whether the questions related to the development of the environmental historiography of metropolises and large cities are relevant when applied to the category of small and medium-sized units, which account for the majority of urban centres. Besides, in this domain, as in other historiographical domains, will there be specific questioning about small and medium-sized cities? Considering the «small town» category will contribute to the debate raised within the community of environmental historians, since its origins in the United States: does environmental mean only natural, wild, rural? Situated in the intersection of urban and rural, the «small town» object and reflection on central places, in this as in other historiographical matters, means reviewing categories and taxonomies and tends to support the paradigm of a continuum rather than a binary system (Fray, 2006).   We present only some examples.   Regarding the presence of «nature» in the town, progress is still modest: we would highlight the presence of water (Deligne, 2003; Fournier, 2007), fields, gardens, vineyards and orchards; the same is true for amenities and restrictions of the ancient place, which urban expansion, from the 19th century, tended to cover, obliterate and cause to be forgotten: nowadays who pays attention to the rural epistemology of cities’ names? We also question the specificity of the town – and the small town – in the mountain environment (Fray, Cornu and Fournier, 2013), linked to vast forests or on the banks of rivers, lakes or ponds, marshes and other wetlands.   Studies about urban pollution are more numerous: the question of urban waste was given special emphasis for recent periods and in large cities, and to a lesser extent, for more ancient times and smaller urban units; for the latter, the possibility of recycling transformed certain waste in more of an opportunity than a threat. Both the status and use of urban waste ground, the «empty spaces», was also questioned again. And we could justifiably ask ourselves whether the «small town» category was also subject to the dialectics of miasma and narcissus! (Corbin, 1982).   Did industrialization and the advent of infrastructure (water, transport, communication, light, drainage …) have a similar impact in small cities and large agglomerations? As for industrial pollution, and the policies that aimed to control it, we should focus our attention on the cases of various industrial installations in small cities and on the examples of recreations – often ex nihilo – or transformations of/in one-industry cities. (Bernhardt; Massard-Guilbaud, 2002). But not all cities became industrial, even in contemporary times, such as urban units, often of a modest size that remain as administrative and service centres, market cities, ecclesiastical and spa cities.   Setting out from the proposals of Rosen; Tarr (1994) and Tarr (2001), we indicate four research axes:   – the impact of cities on the natural and cultural environment, particularly through the effect of extraction: quarrying for stone, wood, sand …, harnessing water, the demands of the urban food market and its consequences for the surrounding agricultural countryside, impacts of drainage (particularly effluents). Do questions about the urban micro-climate, crucial in the reflection of town-planners and hygienists, apply to small cities?   – the impact of the natural environment on cities, previously considered by Lucien Febvre (Febvre, 1922): balancing amenities and restrictions, excluding all natural determinism and therefore allowing the physical or biological element to alternate between positive and negative; presence in the town (whether through the will of humans or deliberate choice) of flora and fauna.   – society’s responses to the changes in the urban environment and to urban environmental problems: the medievalist Jean-Pierre Leguay (Leguay, 1999) and the modernists of Clermont (Fournier, 2001) contributed to combating the idea that was predominant for a long time and fed by the vast amount of studies about the 19th and 20th centuries, according to which notions of public sanitation and hygiene dated from the 18th century and the history of fighting pollution arose from the Industrial Revolution; these authors put back the birth of public sanitation policies to the 14th century, a time marked by the plague in the West but also by falling standards of sanitation in cities (Guillermé, 1990). For more recent periods, we may wonder whether the noise from urban workshops, then from factories (especially the chemical industry) are considered in the same terms – regarding municipal policy on pollution – in large cities and small cities; just as the intensity of polluting phenomena, society’s mobilization capacity, the power relations between craftsmen/industries on one side and inhabitants on the other, the stance taken by local leaders.   – the environmental aspects of cities’ relations with their surroundings, and possibly with their area of influence. Let us take the example of the medieval Danish, subsequently Pomeranian, town of Wollin, situated on an island in the Baltic, at the mouth of the Oder, which underwent great commercial development between the 10th and 12th centuries: the growth in population (reaching 8000 inhabitants) made it one of the largest cities in Northern Europe at the time. But its insularity, favourable to attracting commercial trade, became a disadvantage due to demographic pressure and exhausting local resources, particularly wood and grain. From the 11th century, 250 km to the east, Dantzig/ Gdansk began to grow, sustained by forests and overtaking its rival one century later (Quenet, 2014, p. 165-6).   We invite researchers to submit sessions or papers proposals within the range of those problematics.   bibliography:

  • Bernhardt, 2001: Christoph Bernhardt (ed.), Environmental Problems in European Cities in the 19th and 20th Century / Umweltprobleme in europäischen Städten des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, Münster-New-York : Waxmann, 2001).
  • Bernhardt, Massard-Guilbaud, 2002 : Christoph Bernhardt, Geneviève Massard-Guilbaud (eds.), The Modern Demon : Pollution in Urban and Industrial European Cities, Clermont-Ferrand: Presses Universitaires Blaise Pascal, 2002.
  • Burke, Pommeranz, 2009 : Edmund Burke III, Kenneth Pomeranz (eds.), The Environment and World History, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.
  • Clark, 1995: Peter Clark (ed.), Small Towns in early Modern Europe, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
  • Corbin, 1982 : Alain Corbin, Le miasme et la jonquille. L’odorat et l’imaginaire social, Paris : Aubier-Montaigne, 1982.
  • Costa, Andrade, Tente, 2017: Adelaide Millán da Costa, Amélia Aguiar Andrade, Catarina Tente (eds.), O papel das pequenas cidades na construção da Europa medieval, Lisboa: Instituto de Estudos Medievais, 2017.
  • Deligne, 2003 : Chloé Deligne, Bruxelles et sa rivière. Genèse d’un territoire urbain, XIIe-XVIIIe siècle, Turnhout : Brepols, 2003.
  • Febvre, 1922 : Lucien Febvre, La Terre et l’évolution humaine, Paris, 1922, quatrième partie, chapitre III : « Les villes ».
  • Fournier, 2001 : Patrick Fournier (dir.), Assainissement et salubrité publique en Europe méridionale : fin du Moyen Âge, époque moderne, Siècles. Cahiers du Cendre d’Histoire « Espaces et Cultures », n° 14, 2001.
  • Fournier, 2007 : Patrick Fournier, « La ville au milieu des marais (XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles). Discours théoriques et pratiques de l’espace », Histoire urbaine, n° 18-1 (2007), p. 23-40.
  • Fray, 2006: Jean-Luc Fray, Villes et bourgs de Lorraine : réseaux urbains et centralité au Moyen Âge, Clermont-Ferrand : Presses Universitaires Blaise Pascal, 2006.
  • Fray, Cornu, Fournier, 2013 : Jean-Luc Fray, Pierre Cornu, Patrick Fournier (eds.), Petites villes de montagne de l’Antiquité au XXe siècle. Europe occidentale et centrale, Clermont-Ferrand : Presses Universitaires Blaise Pascal, 2013.
  • Fressoz et alii, 2014: Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, Frédéric Garber, Fabien Locher, Grégory Quénet, Introduction à l’histoire environnementale, Paris: La Découverte, 2014.
  • Guillermé, 1990 : André Guillermé, Les temps de l’eau. La cité, l’eau et les techniques, Seyssel : Champ Vallon, 1990.
  • Guimarães, Amorim, 2016: Paulo Eduardo Guimarães; Inês Amorim, «A História Ambiental em Portugal. A emergência de um novo campo historiográfico». Revista Internacional de Ciencias Sociales. Historia ambiental en Europa y América Latina: miradas cruzadas (coord.) Juan Diego Pérez Cebada et Adrián Gustavo Zarrilli, nº 35, 2016, pp. 47-58
  • Hoffmann, 2014: Richard C. Hoffmann, An Environmental History of Medieval Europe, Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2014.
  • Massard-Guilbaud, 2007 : Geneviève Massard-Guilbaud (dir.), « Villes et environnement », Revue d’Histoire Urbaine, n° 18-1 (2007).
  • Massard-Guilbaud, 2010 : Geneviève Massard-Guilbaud, Histoire de la pollution industrielle. France, 1789-1914, Paris : Editions de l’EHESS, 2010.
  • Melosi, 1993: Martin Melosi, « The place of the city in environmental history », Environmental History Review, 17-1 (1993), p. 1-23.
  • Mouthon, 2017 : Fabrice Mouthon, Le sourire de Prométhée. L’homme et la nature au Moyen Âge, Paris : La Découverte, 2017.
  • Ortega, 2016: Antonio Ortega Santos « Mirando desde el futuro. Diálogos y saberes ambientales en el contexto español». Revista Internacional de Ciencias Sociales. Historia ambiental en Europa y América Latina: miradas cruzadas (coord.) Juan Diego Pérez Cebada et Adrián Gustavo Zarrilli, nº 35, 2016, pp. 61-73.
  • Poussou, Loupès, 1987 : Jean-Pierre Poussou, Philippe Loupès (dir.), Les petites villes du Moyen Âge à nos jours. Actes du colloque international de Bordeaux (25-26 octobre 1985) en hommage à Georges Dupeux, Paris-Bordeaux : Editions du CNRS, 1987.
  • Quénet, 2014 : Grégory Quénet, Qu’est-ce que l’histoire environnementale. L’environnement a une histoire, Seyssel: Champ Vallon, 2014.
  • Radkau, 2000 : Joachim Radkau, Natur und Macht. Eine Weltgeschichte der Umwelt, Munich : C. H. Beck, 2000 (trad. angl.: Nature and Power. A Global History of the Environment, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
  • Rosen, Tarr, 1994: Christine M. Rosen, Joel A. Tarr, « The importance of an urban perspective in environmental history », Journal of Urban History, n° 20-3 (mai 1994), p. 299-310 [citado em Quénet, 2014, p. 154].
  • Tarr, 2001: Joel A. Tarr, « Urban history and environmental history in the United States: complementary and overlapping fields », in: Bernhardt et Massard-Guilbaud, 2001, p. 25-39.