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Spaces in Theory, Spaces in History and Spatial Historiographies

Crang, M.

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B. Kümin


In this essay I want to sketch out a set of spaces, spatial relations and spatial scales as ways of framing some of the issues about premodern political space. This I do in large part to resist the temptation so often evident in the geographic literature to end up privileging one space, scale or relation as the arena of the political. Be that classic political geography and its fixation on the territorial scale of the state or urban historical geography with a focus upon, and indeed conflation of, the public sphere of politics and the public space of the city. Through this essay my aim is to move from the simple, though crucial recognition that everything, bar angels dancing, occupies space – that is political events are in space and happen over space -- to a view that asks how space shapes those events and finally one that looks to see a history of political space where the space itself is produced and shaped through evolving and competing political activities.


Crang, M. (2009). Spaces in Theory, Spaces in History and Spatial Historiographies. In B. Kümin (Ed.), Political space in pre-industrial Europe (249-265). Ashgate Publishing

Publication Date Sep 1, 2009
Deposit Date Oct 29, 2009
Publicly Available Date Dec 15, 2009
Pages 249-265
Book Title Political space in pre-industrial Europe.
Chapter Number 13
Keywords Space, Premodern, Scale, Relational space, Cities, Ritual.
Publisher URL
Additional Information Recently social and cultural studies have experienced a 'spatial turn'. Space-related research seems ever expanding: some historians relate macroeconomics and human agency to regional contexts; others focus on micro-spaces like houses, taverns and parish churches; even virtual or imaginary spaces (such as Purgatory) attract increasing attention. In all of these works, space emerges as a social construct rather than a mere physical unit. This collection examines the potential and limitations of spatial approaches for the political history of preindustrial Europe. Adopting a broad definition of 'political', the volume concentrates on two key questions: Where did political exchange take place? And how did spatial dimensions affect political life in different periods and contexts? Taken together, the essays demonstrate that premodern Europeans made use of a much wider range of political sites than is usually assumed - not just princely courts, town halls and representative assemblies, but common fields as well as back rooms of provincial inns - and that spatial dimensions provided key variables in political life, both in terms of the embedding of practical governance and in the more abstract sense of patronage networks, conceptualizations of power and territorial ambitions. As such, this book offers a timely and critical engagement with the 'spatial turn' from a political perspective. Focusing on the distinct constitutional environments of England and the Holy Roman Empire - one associated with early centralization and strong parliamentary powers, the other with political fragmentation and absolutist tendencies, it bridges the usual gaps between late medievalists and early modernists and those between historians and scholars from other disciplines. Preface, commentary and a sketch of research perspectives discuss the wider implications of the papers' findings and reflect upon the potential and limits of spatial approaches for political history as a whole.


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