Klusáková Luďa

In the works of authors who have succumbed
to the fascination of urban
we frequently find various metaphors
that present urban society and the
town itself as an environment that concentrates
basic social processes as a display
case of social hierarchy and change.
European towns and urban culture are
unhesitatingly regarded as the criterion
of identification and foundation stone of
European cultural identity. Even so, in
some European historiographies, urban
history remains on the edge of the mainstream
of scholarship and is sometimes
reduced to the theme of individual towns.
This applies to Spanish, Portuguese,
Latvian, Russian, Slovak and, alas, Czech
historiography, and it can be supported
with reference to the very small number
of overviews, the absence of syntheses,
and also the lists of participants at the
conference of the European Association
for Urban History (EAUH) from its first
conference in 1992 in Amsterdam to its
eighth conference in 2006 in Stockholm. It
is also the reason why all the synthesizing
works on the development of European
towns published so far by West European
or American authors have essentially
lacked properly founded chapters on the
development of towns in East Central
Europe. This is the case with the books
produced by Christopher R. Friedrichs,
Alex Cowan, Jan de Vries, Paul Bairoch,
Paul Hohenbergh and Lynn Hollen Lees.
When Peter Clark was editing a book on
small towns in early modern Europe, he
asked the Hungarian historian Vera Bacskai
to put together the chapter on East
Central Europe. The problem is always
the same. The historiographies of the
countries of East Central Europe include
a number of works that have contexts and
implications beyond the national perspective
but are inaccessible because of
language (e.g., the synthesis on the earlier
development of Polish towns by Henryk
Samsonowicz and Marie Bogucka,
the analysis of the demographic development
of modern Polish towns by Marie
Nietyksza, or the older Slovak work of
Anton Špiesz). There do, in fact, exist
numerous studies with a narrower focus
in accessible languages (e.g., articles by
Gabor Sokoly, Györgyi Granasztoi, many
by Maria Bogucka or, among the younger
authors, Markian Prokopovich), but,
unfortunately, these accessible works
have, for various reasons, remained outside
the field of vision of the authors of
the syntheses and, of course, they are
too specialized to fill in the gaps in our
knowledge by themselves. Despite all the
research possibilities available today, the
younger generation has not been interested
enough in urban themes to embark
on synthetic and comparative work in this
area. In this context, the constant and systematic
interest shown by Jaroslav Miller
is exceptional and gratifying.
It would be extremely unfair and
misleading to claim that the field was
untouched by scholarship before Jaroslav
Miller entered it. On the contrary,
among historians of East Central Europe
(as they have defined it), there has always
been great interest but interest of uneven
intensity. In the Czech case, historians
have tended to be attracted by the “life
stories” of towns: their beginnings, the
founding of towns and their early phases
of growth or, later, the stage of rapid
industrialization. The period of crisis,
regression, conflicts and problems was,
for a long time, left on one side, although
even this period found its historiographers.
Historical demography has also
been providing us with extensive information
about the towns of individual
countries, or groups of towns. What has
been lacking, however, is the systematic
archival research and comparative analysis
that would set the towns and urban
society of East Central Europe in the context
of European urban development. We
did not have a work that would analyze
and define Central European types of
town, characterize the dynamics of their
development, compare them and outline
their place and specific features as contrasted
with other European regions. In
this context, Jaroslav Miller’s book is the
book for which urban historiography has
been waiting for years. It has attracted
a corresponding amount of interest not
only from reviewers (Bůžek in ČČH 105,
3/2007, pp. 751–753[ Český časopis historický
– Czech Historical Review];
Ďurčanský for ĎaS, 08/2007, http://
45.html [Dějiny a současnost – History
and Present]) but also among students
(it appears quite often in lists of literature
Readers will be engaged both by the
formulation of the problem in the book
and the offer of a comparative approach.
The notion of towns as conservative
closed societies contrasts with the generally
accepted image of towns as associated
with modernity. The expert on early
modern towns, Peter Clark, has characterized
towns, their populations the bearers
of innovation since the Middle Ages,
as the identifying mark of European society.
Some European areas have, at different
times, been more open to new
developments and changes and acted as
a model for others. Gradually a particular
area would lose influence and the innovative
energy would move elsewhere. Thus
the Mediterranean towns, which were
the model from the Middle Ages to the
Renaissance, were replaced in this sense
in the early modern period by the towns
of the Netherlands and England and,
later in the twentieth century, the model
became Scandinavian. Is this characterization
invalid according to J. Miller, or
does it apply only to Western Europe?
Was there such a major difference
between Western and Central Europe?
Or is it only a question of emphasis, the
choice of angle of view? Are introversion
and conservatism, as described by Jaroslav
Miller, the general mark of the European
towns of the early modern period?
Can a socially conservative and closed
urban society at the same time show itself
to be technologically innovative? Jaroslav
Miller has posed the whole question
P. CLARK: European Cities: Culture and
Innovation in a Regional Perspective, in Marjaan
NIEMI & Ville VUOLANTO (eds.), Reclaiming
the City. Innovation, Culture, Experience. Studia
Fennica Historica, Helsinki 2003, pp. 121–134.
in a very provocative way and one that
definitely entices the reader. For Miller,
towns are, above all, living organisms.
It is their inhabitants, structures, societies
and communities that create them.
Miller offers his analysis and comparison
as the story of towns and their particular
inhabitants, while demographic and
social historical study is the foundation
of the work. Conceived in this way, the
book is addressed to the reading public
with an interest in social history. The systematic
way in which Miller sets his analysis
in the Central European context and
the example of the use of the comparative
approach make the book particularly useful
for students.
How does Jaroslav Miller present the
historical comparative approach in his
book? What does he compare and how?
The historical comparative method has
its followers in Czech historiography, but
it is not one of the most widely employed
methods and has not previously been
employed in relation to urban themes in
the early modern period. To help us with
orientation here, let us take the clear
guide to the use of the historical comparative
method (approach) as formulated
by Miroslav Hroch, who developed this
methodology in Czech historiography
and trained several generations of historians
in its application.
The theory of comparison demands
that, first and foremost, we should distinguish
between ordinary comparison,
which is the prerequisite for any assessHe
has most recently formulated his idea
in the introduction to M. HROCH: Comparative
Studies in Modern European History. Nation,
Nationalism, Social Change, Ashgate: Aldershot
(UK) /Burlington (VT–USA) 2007, pp. xiii– xiv.
ment of phenomena and processes or for
the assessment of a personality, and the
comparative method as a comprehensive
procedure involving the targeted use of
a whole range of techniques and methods.
Jaroslav Miller, who studied comparative
history at the Central European
University in Budapest, identifies with
this concept of comparison as an elaborated
comprehensive method.
Hroch defined four basic steps or
requirements that the researcher must
fulfill when deciding on the use of comparison
in any particular case. If we look
at how Jaroslav Miller fulfills them in
his book, we shall learn more about his
The first step is the proper and precise
definition of the object of comparison;
here it is necessary to chose comparable
objects, i.e., objects that, without regard
to the level of abstraction, belong to the
same category. With Jaroslav Miller, the
objects of comparison are towns as part
of the corresponding regional network of
towns, or certain groups, a type of town.
For East Central Europe, he draws attention
to the considerable regional differences
in the density of settlement and
occurrence of towns. The status of towns
and their inhabitants typically differs
depending on whom they legally belong
to. Given the variety of types of town
settlement, J. Miller has created a set
of selected towns in which royal towns
are strikingly predominant, for these
represent a closed group that occurs
throughout the region and so the examples
are genuinely comparable. It can be
assumed that their institutional life operated
in a similar way and that, in view of
their importance in their time, there is
enough accessible evidence about their
development. The author has to define
and characterize the region on which he
concentrates. Miller decided to fill a gap
in our knowledge of urban development
in the lands of the Bohemian Crown, the
Polish-Lithuanian Union and the Royal
Hungarian Lands. These are neighboring
countries that were in many respects
close and similar, but also showed differences.
Despite the differences, they can
be defined as a region, as East Central
Europe. This category is commonly used
today, and sometimes covers an even
wider territory.
Right at the beginning, the historian
must also decide whether he or she will
apply the comparative method to the
development of a phenomenon, a specific
process over time, or will use it to
analyze the structure of phenomena.
This is a very difficult decision when the
researcher is interested in both. To which
view should he or she give precedence?
Might it not be possible to combine the
two approaches? Jaroslav Miller’s decision
was for the structure of phenomena,
which also involves the development.
In the next phase, the researcher must
clearly formulate the goal of the comparison,
because as a method it can produce
different kinds of results. One can
look for similarities or differences, interpret
causal relations, or use the results
as a basis for an overall typology. At the
same time the comparison can be conceived
symmetrically or asymmetrically,
i.e., when the comparison is between several
objects only one of which is considered
to be central. Although Miller knew
that he would not have an identical set
of sources for all the towns studied and,
in many cases, would be dependent on
the secondary literature, he decided for
a wide-angle approach and a basically
symmetrical comparison.
The third prerequisite for this method
is clarification of the relationship of comparison
to the time access. The historian
must decide and make clear whether
his or her interest is in a synchronic or
diachronic analysis. Tracing development
over time is of course the procedure
most proper to historians, and so
one of the forms of comparison focuses
on comparison of the transformation of
phenomena or processes in time, i.e.,
establishing what about them changes
before and what after. Synchronic analysis
makes possible a comparison of historical
processes or particular social
phenomena as they appear in more than
one country in the same period of time.
Through comparison we can discover
whether these processes were independent
of each other or whether certain links
and connections can be uncovered here.
In Miroslav Hroch’s view, the most interesting
thing about this procedure is that
it enables us to ascertain whether the
objects compared have gone through the
same stage of development, and thus, by
extension, enables us to explore these
analogical situations (or analogical stages
of development) even when they occurred
at different times from the point of view
of absolute chronology. Jaroslav Miller
decided for a synchronic analysis of urban
society in selected countries in what is
known as the early modern period, which
he defined for his purposes as 1500–
1700, with necessary overlaps into the
earlier and later periods. In this case, we
do anticipate dramatic lack of uniformity
within the region, but the comparison
with Mediterranean or North-Western
Europe would be interesting.
The fourth essential step in formulating
the tasks of comparative study and
concrete methods is to define the criteria
of comparison, which must be the same
for all the objects chosen. The choice of
these criteria is crucial. They must be relevant,
they must provide an effective picture
of the phenomenon studied, and they
must make it possible to compare the
objects investigated in accordance with
these criteria. It is recommended that the
more objects an author is studying, the
fewer criteria of comparison he or she
should use. Picking these criteria is also
a very difficult decision. In the case of
the comparison of the town networks in
three countries, what is too many, what is
appropriate and what is too few?
The first criterion of comparison in
Miller’s study is the regional town network.
Miller offers a situation report on
the urban map of East Central Europe.
He draws attention to the situation and
changes in each individual country and
shows differences in the intensity and in
the type of urbanization; for some people
these may seem obvious, but they will be
revealing in European comparative perspective,
above all on the West-East axis.
The second criterion is the problem of
migration to the towns. Connected with
this are the status of the town population
and the attraction of a specific group of
towns. These factors necessarily show up
via immigration. Carrying on from this
issue, Miller raises the question of the
identity of the town and town community
and its relationship to “others.” We can
consider these factors to be another two
criteria of comparison. A town community
can preserve its identity by closing
up, guarding its borders and controlling
immigration. These tendencies may
be expressed in the policy towards integration
of migrants and in attempts to
defend town autonomy in relation to the
state. The “others” were most often Jews,
who themselves wanted to preserve their
identity and spontaneously separated
themselves off, but were at the same time
segregated by the majority society which,
however, also needed them and exploited
their commercial skills and financial
services. Miller presents another type
of “other” in the form of the nobility,
who settled at court for reasons of prestige
and politics, and in the major towns
for economic reasons, and who, in some
cases, developed or even built their own
towns. We expect to find tension between
the townspeople and nobility, but mutual
cultural influence is also evident. The life
of the urban community was governed
by fixed rules, regulations, legal norms.
Conflicts that occurred between the community
and council tell us a great deal
about the way the town councils functioned
and the way the town operated.
For this period, conflicts can typically
be expected over the church in the context
of reformation and re-catholicization
and over the centralizing policies of
the state. The final two criteria are first
the estates monarchy in Central Eastern
Europe, the struggle between the estates
and the state in the Rzecz pospołita, the
Royal Hungarian Lands and the Bohemian
Lands as a political issue on the
one hand, and the town economy on
the other. The analysis of these themes
involves a broadening of the comparative
focus to include not only royal towns but
the private tributary towns, whose economic
growth based on exploitation of
traditional economic instruments (economic
liberties and rights) strongly characterizes
the type of urban network in all
three compared countries. The account
of the legal framework and fundamental
features of town economies and hinterlands
on the basis of these criteria represents
the starting point for a concluding
summary. Jaroslav Miller agrees with
Ch. Friedrichs and A. Cowan that, in the
early modern period, towns appeared
outwardly much the same as they had in
the late medieval period. Neither with
respect to the running of the town or the
social structure within which internal
communication took place were there
dramatic changes underway. The family
or individual who moved from one urban
environment to another, his parents or,
a couple of generations further on, his
children or grandchildren would have
been living in an environment that essentially
functioned in the same way. Considering
England at the end of the 17th
century and beginning of the 18th century,
Peter Borsay saw a change in the life style
of the urban population, in the discovery
of leisure, but above all in the transformation
of the functions of the town and the
development of towns with a specialized
function. From Jaroslav Miller’s analysis
it follows that the society of the not particularly
populous towns of East Central
Europe was not just very close to its agriP.
BORSAY: History of Leisure: The British
Experience Since 1500, Palgrave 2006, pp.
1–35 and especially his earlier work on the renaissance
of English towns.
cultural hinterland, but fairly impervious
to change. Naturally, aspects of urban
life take different forms viewed through
the eyes of old inhabitants, immigrants
who can and wish to immigrate, and
those who wish, at all costs, to preserve
their difference. They are seen one way
by a town council and another by a nobleman
or other feudal or ecclesiastical
authority. Jaroslav Miller refers to differences
in the average figures for density
of population and the size of the towns
of Western Europe, especially France
(p. 33). We should not forget that the picture
was far from homogenous, for small
towns were very numerous and close in
their relationship to the countryside. The
average figures have been distorted by
the great ports, provincial centers and
capital cities. It is no accident that Peter
Clark and Bernard Lepetit devoted a collaborative
project to the small towns of
Europe. In France there is an association
for the history of small towns and a whole
range of studies on the theme. The continuing
importance of the small towns,
the traditional character of their populations
and their close relationship to the
countryside was pointed out as early as
the 19th century by Eugen Weber, and
later by Fernand Braudel. Despite this,
B. LEPETIT: In search of the small town
in early nineteenth-century France in P. CLARK:
Small towns in early modern Europe, Cambridge
E.g. J.-P. POUSSOU (ed.): Les petites villes
du sud-ouest de l´antiquité a nos jours, Mamers
E. WEBER: La Fin des Terroir. La modernisation
de la France rurale 1870–1914, Paris
1983 (first in Stanford 1976); F. BRAUDEL:
L’Identité de la France I. Histoire et environement,
Paris 1986.
the pre-industrial period is considered
important for the urbanization of European
In conclusion it must be said that the
theme of the book is a fascinating one,
and that Jaroslav Miller has put together
and organized marvelous material which
can be used for future research and the
enlargement of the comparative perspective
to include other European regions.
Miller’s comment on and responses to
international discussion on the problems
concerned are very interesting and readable.
His bibliography and catalogue of
sources is admirable, and will be appreciated
by any researchers wanting to pick
up his themes. In this book, Miller also
shows that the unit of comparison need
not necessarily be the state, but can be
a social phenomenon, and that quantification
can be combined with the qualitative
analysis needed to draw attention to
the actors in the processes explored and
in some cases to compensate for a lack of
official records providing for statistics.
Of course, from the point of view of the
historiography of events, this approach
is misleading and comparative analyses
involve inadmissible simplification and
schematization. This tension between
the comparative and narrative is classical,
long familiar and useful. By means of
his definition of the six levels of comparison,
Jaroslav Miller, on the one hand, follows
basic criteria that he exploits for the
regional typology of the town network
E. MAUR in Pavla HORSKÁ – Eduard
MAUR – Jiří MUSIL: Zrod velkoměsta. Urbanizace
českých zemí a Evropa [The Birth of
the Metropolis. The urbanisation of the Czech
Lands and Europe], Paseka: Praha/Litomyšl
2002, pp. 80–120.
and, on the other, gives readers an insight
into the town environment, its mechanisms,
and urban stories. By characterizing
the urban societies of East Central
Europe as conservative and closed, he
inspires us to carry on looking for the
relationships between an innovative
approach to social problems and urban
Luďa Klusáková

Vydání: 10, 2008, 2