Peter Clark (University of Helsinki) and Bill Rowe (The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore)
Small, Towns, Growth
For centuries small(er) towns have been the bedrock of global urban systems. In Northern Europe around 1500 80 per cent of urban centres were small towns. China had a multitude of small towns by the high Middle Ages. The medieval Islamic world included an uneven carpet of small market and fortress towns. Yet compared to larger urban centres small(er) towns have received sporadic attention from historians and the conventional narrative, particularly for the modern period, has been generally pessimistic with small towns portrayed as losers. Sessions at recent EAUH conferences have started to highlight the significant role of European small towns, but more long-term analysis is needed, as well as global perspectives. Recent events ( Brexit in the UK, the French gilets jaunes), indicate that small towns retain an important political capacity. And there is considerable evidence that at certain periods small towns have been major centres of economic innovation, cultural creativity and regional integration.
The session will discuss:
- In what periods do small towns enjoy strong economic growth, serve as innovative cultural or political centres? Can we identify particular types of dynamic small towns?
- Is small town dynamism self-generated, due, eg, to local elites? Or is the stimulus derived from the hinterland- eg impact of rural lords, agricultural change, immigration? Or does it come from urban ‘trickledown’, from economic transfer, migration etc from bigger cities.
- The impacts of small town dynamism? On the built environment, governance? In the long-term can small towns generate continuing success, reinventing themselves on their own terms? Or are they destined to be short term success stories or if successful to cease to be small towns?
This session is followed by Round Table RT1 - Small Towns in Global Perspective
Smaller Cities in Jordan as Agents of Change: Revealing Hidden Dynamics of Secondary Cities through History in the Arab World
Janset Shawash (German Jordanian University)
Jordan Small Towns Socio-economic Dynamics, Contemporary Period Political Economic, More than one Continent
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is often portrayed as an artificial creation, carved out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire by colonial powers to serve various external geo-political purposes. Jordan’s socioeconomic fortunes currently revolve around the modern capital of Amman, which hosts more than half the population of the country. However, behind the narrative of colonial creation and under the 11 layers of contemporary rentier and neoliberal macro dynamics lay matrices of historically continuous, localized and geographically balanced micro dynamics, which hold parallels to other Arab countries. This paper looks at a number of phenomena in cities that are considered provincial capitals and their relation to their hinterland. Due to the tribal nature of the Jordanian society, the seats of tribes were often found in these smaller locations, with the town centers constituting a more diverse amalgamation of regional incomers seeking trade and refuge. The cities are selected from the different geographical regions of Jordan and represent different types of socio-economic contexts. Keeping in mind the questions posed by the session, this paper discusses three primary topics in regard to these cities: their changing political role, economic dynamics, and flows of regional and local populations. In regard to the political role, attention is drawn to the towns in the Ottoman period and their integration in the nation building project of modern Jordan, as well as to notions of changing roles of the tribes, challenges of modernity, and local micro-dynamics. For the economic role of cities, each locale possessed a relative advantage ranging from being a seat of agricultural estates, to trade, to pilgrimage services; while in modern times, there is a challenge to re-invent their livelihoods, through venturing in sectors such as tourism and large scale production of green energy. As for the flows of population and immigration, Jordan witnessed several major influxes of refugees resulting from regional crises. The influx of these different groups in their hundreds of thousands posed substantial challenges on all levels and dramatically changed the socio-economic structure. However, in smaller towns the impact was sometimes counter-intuitive.
Small Towns in East Central Europe: the Dynamism of Networking and its Limitations
Katalin Szende (Central European University)
East Central Europe, Urban Networks Central Functions, Medieval Period
If one considers the debatable figure of 10,000 inhabitants as a threshold, all towns of pre-industrial East Central Europe, except for regional or country capitals, were small. But even if the limit is lowered, there were very few bigger or medium-sized towns in this part of Europe. Therefore, as Vera Bácskai has already shown, small towns fulfilled administrative, economic and cultural central functions otherwise performed by bigger cities. This posed a considerable challenge to these settlements beyond what their size and economic potential would have warranted. This paper posits that it was intensive networking with their nearer and broader hinterlands that made small towns capable of coping with this challenge. I shall examine through a series of selected cases from the medieval kingdoms of Hungary, Bohemia and Poland from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries how networking functioned in practice. I shall look at possibilities of physical communication and transport through the analysis of town plans; at the channels of official communication through the 42 means of administrative literacy; and at means of indirect network-building. This latter used many different channels including but not limited to holding markets and fairs, attending universities or employing university graduates as priests and notaries, and settling religious orders (mainly mendicants). Contacts mediated by the town’s overlord: the king, a bishop, a magnate or other member of the nobility will also be taken into account. Finally, I shall consider what were the limitations or problems in networking and how various parts of the broader region differed from each other.
The Courtauld family’s Influence on the Development of Three Small Essex Towns c.1790-1920
Ian Mitchell (University of Wolverhampton)
Family Business Textile Industry, Urban Transformation Europe, Modern Period
This is a case study of three small towns (all under 10,000 population in 1901) in the English county of Essex, north-east of London. The towns are Bocking, Braintree, and Halstead. The period covered is from the late eighteenth century to the 1920s. All three towns developed a significant textile industry, predominately silk weaving, during the nineteenth century. George Courtauld established a textile mill at Pebmarsh in Essex in the 1790s. The business grew rapidly from the 1810s onwards largely due to the efforts of George’s son Samuel. The family and the company dominated life in the three towns for the next 150 years or so.
The paper will consider:
- The economic impact of the family and the firm, and in particular the growth of the mills and the employment they offered.
- The social impact of the family on the three towns. This comprised provision for education and health care, including a hospital. There was also housing for workers and a range of welfare and leisure facilities.
- The impact on the built environment. As well as the mills, now largely gone (except at Halstead), there were both domestic and public buildings, including a grandiose town hall in Braintree, and public gardens.
It will finally and briefly look at the longer-term impact of the family on the three towns. Once the 17 mill closed, Halstead reverted to being a small town with a range of local amenities. Braintree and Bocking became a single town in terms of local government, though Bocking has retained a distinct identity as a desirable place to live. Braintree, which had a range of industries as well as textiles in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, has become a medium-sized town, growing rapidly as part of the London commuter belt. Small town dynamism in these three towns was largely self-generated through the activities of a local elite (the Courtauld family). In the longer term they followed differing trajectories.