Centre-Periphery, World Systems, and Medieval Archaeology

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I have briefly outlined different levels of scale in the discussion of centre–periphery, from a local to a more global perspective. I have tried to show that the concepts of centre and periphery cannot be applied without qualification. Different realities are concealed behind them. The common factor is nevertheless that they signal some kind of contacts, in the form of giving and taking, of power, of stakeholders, of dependencies, and of communications. When employed in the right way, they give us a very useful analytical instrument, which says something important about the reality.

What can the medieval archaeologist do in all this? This research field has primarily been a battlefield for historians, social scientists, and to some extent prehistoric archaeologists. With my example of urbanization I have tried to show that there is an area when medieval archaeological evidence plays an important role today. The urban archaeological material has created a much better foundation for further discussion of urbanization in many respects.

It is possible, for example, to trace at least nearby contacts in the archaeological record, but we have also found material which came from far afield, and which has been studied too little. Swedish research shows clearly how our knowledge of easterly contacts has expanded in recent years, particularly as a result of studies of pottery, but also of other material. Contacts with Byzantium are becoming more visible
This is not a new way for archaeologists to work. The important thing is that, proceeding from the potential that a centre–periphery perspective can give, we can formulate the questions somewhat differently and thus reach an understanding of how the contacts took place and the character they had, and how receivers and senders were affected by the contacts, and even the degree of mutual dependence between them.

It is essential to study the foreign material in context through comparative studies of different forms of social structure: towns, villages, castles, etc. We must do this so that we do not just look at a single category; instead we should try to see common features in these different structures in society. This is a large task, too large for one individual, but appropriate for joint projects. A close-up study of, say, the form and function of urbanization in a number of areas, both inside and outside Europe, could give us a better basis for a discussion of centre–periphery relations at different levels and in different settings. But we must never forget the whole, and the inspiration for our own thinking that comparison entails.

How can I sum up what I have been trying to say?
– medieval archaeology must break out of its national boundaries and work across them much more;
– important questions here concern dependencies, contacts, communications over areas of varying size;
– centre–periphery analyses, used with consideration for nuances, can be a good tool;
– we medieval archaeologists must also get involved in the really big discussions about these contacts and dependencies over long distances; in other words, we must relate to world system theories;
– finally, we should contemplate a European project about, for example, urbanization covering large areas, including comparisons of driving forces, organization, composition, topography, and chronology, and focusing on questions of centre and periphery.
Titel på värdpublikationCentre-Region-Periphery- Medieval Europe 2002 Basel. Preprinted papers. Volume 1: Keynote-Lectures to the Conference
RedaktörerGuido Helmig, Barbara Scholkmann, M. Untermann
FörlagFolio-Verlag Dr. G. Wesselkamp
ISBN (tryckt)3-930327-08-2
StatusPublished - 2002

Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ)

  • Historia och arkeologi


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