Finance, law and the language of governmental practice in late medieval towns: Aberdeen and Augsburg in comparison

Lead Research Organisation: University of Aberdeen
Department Name: School of Divinity, History and Philosop


The development of towns and cities was a crucial aspect of the later middle ages, and this growth left long-lasting legacies, not least for the exercise of government in practice and for associated ideas of governance. This project addresses the problem of how to understand the languages, terminology and ideas of governmental practice in western European towns in the later middle ages. It does so through new analysis of recently created resources for the Bavarian city of Augsburg and the smaller Scottish burgh of Aberdeen.

The Aberdeen records hold UNESCO UK designation status. Preceding collaborative projects led by the co-applicants have created digital transcriptions of the textual contents of different types of urban administrative record - the mainly financial ledger books of Augsburg (1320-1466/70) and the mainly legal council registers of Aberdeen (1398-1511). The opportunity now is to place these resources in comparison and undertake deep historically driven analysis of their content, and simultaneously to develop the ways in which German and Scottish historiographies of the medieval period can benefit from more direct academic dialogue.

The examination will address the following aspects of the Augsburg and Aberdeen records: (1) what were the terminology and ideas of financial administration active in both towns; (2) what were the terminology and ideas of legal-juridical administration (again, in both towns); in both cases asking was there a shared vocabulary of governance, particularly concerning law and finance; and (3) how best to address the methodological challenge of a structured comparison of these two XML data sets. The TEI-format of both XML resources means the comparison is possible; the role of the language technician RF will be vital in applying existing tools and designing new techniques for automatic analysis to support historical enquiry, and enabling a corpus-scale examination of the relevant terminology and advancing an important field of digital humanities.

More broadly, this analysis will enable us to consider how the language of practice differs from the normative language of treatises and commentaries on government in the period, and how far 'urban' is a useful category in the analysis of medieval administrative records.


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Description The high-level key finding (in progress) during the first and second years of the award is that the research team has identified the conceptual domains of 'order', 'budget' and 'unity' as the sub-fields of 'urbanitas' which forms the basis of the comparison between Augsburg and Aberdeen; active development of publication outputs is underway using a digital humanities methodology, and in the second year the project convened an international workshop in Aberdeen with invited participants who discussed the conceptual domains described above, presenting papers based on their own research with other cities and towns.
Exploitation Route The intention at this stage is that our overall analytical framework and findings, as well as our methods, will be of use to other researchers in the field. See also
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description The research context of the FLAG project has in part helped to inform the design, development and release of a video game Strange Sickness (2021), see
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)
Impact Types Cultural,Economic

Description Aberdeen City Archives partnership 
Organisation Aberdeen City Council
Department Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Archives
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Continuation of ongoing dialogue with City Archives team around original Aberdeen Council Registers volumes, and related burgh records.
Collaborator Contribution Continuation of ongoing dialogue around original Aberdeen Council Registers volumes, and related burgh records. Facilitation of access to original records and/or images.
Impact This is a multi-disciplinary collaboration among scholars and professionals from archives, history and computational linguistics
Start Year 2020