On the 18th and 19th of December of 2014 the ‘Facultat de Geografia i Història’ will be hosting an international seminar on Land Use and Management in Western Europe (12th-15th centuries), the first of a series of meetings among medieval historians from various European countries interested in rural history. This series originates from a meeting held in Valencia in January 2014 with the goal of sharing the results of a research carried out in the last years by groups from different countries of Western Europe, from the UK to Italy, from the Netherlands and Belgium to France and Spain, on the rural world in the late Middle Ages, as well as to develop a common agenda for the coming years, which includes as a featured aspect seminars on specialized topics.
In front of a vision of the medieval economy as autarkic, locked in itself and of production for subsistence, ongoing research by these groups are showing a high degree of commercialisation, of production for the market, which characterized the late medieval rural economy before and after the Black Death. One field in which this more refined view of the Middle Ages can be clearly seen is in that of the land management. This is a central issue in relation to technical stagnation and the apparent failure of agricultural productivity to feed a growing population, traditionally explained because the technology was poor, land quality was low and peasants were only interested in their own subsistence and in enduring feudal or seigniorial burdens, without relevant incentives for growth. So the question of how agrarian capitalism emerged from the fourteenth-century crisis tended to focus on facts as the disappearance of serfdom, the dispossession of the peasantry and the extension of leaseholding. However, recent research has shown that the answers are not so clear, and greater complexity has been incorporated into the overall picture. How could some manors achieve yields comparable to those of the eighteenth century? There is growing evidence of the interaction of peasants and lords that seems to respond to market incentives. Other recent works in relation to investment and growth in the productivity of land and labour provide new answers from innovative perspectives. The Valencia seminar aims to pool these innovative ways of looking at traditional sources for the study of agrarian economy.
We will focus on a particular aspect, the land management, from the direct exploitation and the emphyteutic tenure to the leasehold and sharecropping; the forms they took in each country, their economic possibilities and limitations, their social repercussions and the way in which they became an hindrance, an obstacle or, conversely, an incentive and an encouragement for economic growth. Why some European regions emerged reinforced from the crisis and prepared for the major economic transformations of modern times and others not, remaining stagnant and backward instead? Was the short-term leasehold, as some historians claim, a more dynamic and effective form of land management while the tenure was more traditional and static, contrary to any innovation? The meeting aims to discuss these and other issues and problems from a monographic perspective -focused on each of the different forms of land management- and a comparative one -comparing various forms in the same observatory-, mostly favouring regional analysis rather than national pictures.
Prof. Antoni Furió (Universitat de València)