How did local government work in Western Europe during the late Middle Ages?

A research project undertaken by Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and the University of Aberdeen will compare records from the historic cities of Augsburg and Aberdeen

28 January 2020

How were the city administrations of Augsburg and Aberdeen organized during the late Middle Ages? How did they evolve? What were the similarities and differences between the two? And what terminology did the two administrations use in documenting their activities? In a new joint research project starting in February 2020, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU)  and the University of Aberdeen in Scotland will be looking to find answers to these questions. For this purpose, the participating researchers plan to analyze historical source material from Augsburg and Aberdeen, which has already been digitized and is now available in the form of XML data sets. The project will run for three years and the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), a UK funding agency, will support it each to the tune of some EUR 350,000. The new collaboration was preceded by the successful application submitted in response to the call by the DFG and AHRC for projects designed to promote German-British collaborative research. Only 19 of the more than 170 applications were selected. "The fact that we have been chosen in the face of such stiff competition is an indication of the special nature of our project," said the leading project researcher in Mainz, Professor Jörg Rogge of JGU's Department of History. "It is truly innovative and has a major European dimension."

Rogge is also proud of the fact that this project builds on many years of previous achievement. "The project is based on the results of two of our earlier research undertakings, so it is an expression of the continuity and consistency of our work." The two previous projects involved digitizing the so-called Augsburg Master Builders' Ledgers, accounting records outlining the city of Augsburg's financial management practices during the years 1320 to 1466, which have now been annotated and published online. In the other project, "Man Rent or Land Rent?", Rogge studied the relevance and purpose of land allocation in Scotland during the late Middle Ages.

The current project will also involve the researchers in Mainz and Aberdeen sharing ideas about the challenges and solutions encountered during the analysis and comparison of their XML data sets as well as developing new automatic analysis techniques. The data from Aberdeen includes transcribed local city administration records from the years 1398 to 1511, which mostly deal with legal affairs.