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  April 17, 2008 at 15:00 p.m.

Ambiguities of the Frontier: Two Case Studies

CEU– Monument building, Gellner room


Piotr Górecki

University of California, Riverside

At least since Archibald Lewis's publication of his article on this subject in 1958, medieval East Central Europe has been viewed as one of the macro-regions comprising "the frontier" of the Continent. By deduction, this view has been applied to each of the individual regions and localities within East Central Europe. As a result, when it is conceptualized as a "frontier," this part of the Continent is quite commonly viewed as monolithic—and subject to a "closure" understood in terms of a standardized set of criteria, adding up to a net transfer, from some notional European "core" into the region as a whole its constituent regions and localities. But when considered from the perspective of those smaller regions and localities, "the frontier" begins to look quite different. Individual regions, and localities within them, are not straightforward homologues, or microcosms, of any one, very large-scale, model of the "frontier" and its "closing." This paper inquires into two relatively local regions of Silesia, between about 1200 and 1227, in order to reconceptualize those phenomena which are commonly understood by "frontier." Each was a "frontier" in two quite different senses of that word: a very local part of that large macro-region, East Central Europe, which, in its entirety, was a net recipient of the transfers just noted; and, itself a region encompassing both old and a new forms of lordship, peasantry, migration, settlement, and land use—that is to say, a "frontier" in the regional sense, within the duchy of Silesia and Piast Poland. The intention is not to engage in a polemic against the large-scale, Europe-wide diffusionist view of "the frontier" and its "closing" initially formulated by Lewis, but to take a look at some of those phenomena which, when closely examined, affect and texture our understanding of what actually happens on a "frontier"—and which therefore prompt a reconsideration of the construct itself.

Piotr Górecki is a professor of History at the University of California, Riverside, where he has worked since 1989. He specializes principally in the history of law in its social context, with emphasis on Poland between the later twelfth and the early fourteenth centuries. He is also interested in crucial conceptual and historiographical frameworks in terms of which the different regions of medieval Europe may be meaningfully compared. His most recent book is A Local Society in Transition: The Henryków Book and Related Documents (2007), and he is currently working on a monograph-length study of the political, seigneurial, legal, and economic world surrounding the Cistercian abbey at Henryków in medieval Silesia.

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