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Urban Governance and Civic Participation in Words and Stone. Urbanism in Central Europe 1200-1600

CEU Summer University Course

11-19 July 2022


Course Director
  • Katalin Szende
    Department of Medieval Studies/ Democracy in History WG, Democracy Institute, Central European University, Vienna, Austria/Budapest, Hungary
  • Zoë Opačić
    Department of History of Art, Birkbeck University of London, UK
Course Faculty
  • Ferenc Hörcher
    Research Institute for Politics and Government, University of Public Service, Budapest, Hungary
  • József Laszlovszky
    Department of Medieval Studies, Central European University, Vienna, Austria/Budapest, Hungary
  • Susanne Rau
    Historisches Seminar, University of Erfurt, Germany
  • Béla Zsolt Szakács
    Department of Medieval Studies, Central European University, Vienna, Austria/Budapest, Hungary

Cities and towns have been established to fulfill central functions in the production, exchange and consumption of commodities, as well as to serve as administrative and religious centers for a certain district, region or realm. Therefore, they are characterized by populations larger, denser and more complex than that of the surrounding countryside. In order to manage this complexity efficiently, cities were given or gradually acquired a certain degree of autonomy and developed their own governing bodies and institutions, with varying degrees of participation by inhabitants of different social and legal standing. The system of governance necessitated the use of administrative literacy and the appropriate shaping of the physical environment, including its open spaces, buildings and ornaments.  

The aim of the summer university course is threefold. First, to critically examine the notion of civic participation in a long-term perspective, its foundations in political thought and to explore its forms of expression in various written and visual media. Second, to bring Central Europe to the limelight and open new interdisciplinary perspectives for young scholars interested in art history, social history, pragmatic literacy and urban planning. Third, to consider issues of preservation, protection and the value of conceptual and built heritage for modern societies. 

The course will consist of four types of activities: (1) thematic lectures given by one of the faculty members, (2) workshops analyzing a specific type of written or visual evidence under the guidance of two or three faculty members, (3) thematic city walks in Budapest, Brno and Prague, visiting sites and buildings exemplifying the issues discussed in the lectures and workshops, guided by course faculty and other resource persons, and (4) seminars where participants of the course present their research topics and receive feedback. The key topics include (a) the urbanization of Central Europe and the topography of governance; (b) the legal background of urban autonomy; (c) secular architecture and the display of authority; (d) sacred architecture and civic identity; (e) civic participation and municipal administration. 

Our agenda fits into a broad trend of international research. Historical, archaeological and architectural investigations, as well as studies on political thought, have investigated medieval cities and towns on their own account. These research results have stimulated academic debates on the creation and growth of towns; on the role of seigniorial power, civic initiatives and external forces in these processes; and on the role of migration, colonization and cultural transfer in the spread of urbanization – just to name a few. The novelty of our course will be to closely link the administrative and spatial/architectural aspects and to concentrate on Central Europe from a comparative perspective. 

Application deadline: 28 February 2022
For more information visit the course page at the CEU SUN website.
Research areas: