Private need, public order: Urban sanitation in late medieval England and Scandinavia

PhD Dissertation, University of Virginia, 2008, directed by W. B. Carlson.

This study investigates the workings of late medieval sanitation technologies, particularly how solutions to sanitation issues were constructed as a relationship between the city government and urban inhabitants. It argues that medieval sanitation developed through the reciprocal interaction between physical conditions and complex social systems. The available technologies and environmental demands prompted the development of certain social arrangements at the city level such as the growth of specialist sanitation jobs, collection of taxes and direct participation of residents. At the same time, social arrangements enabled some technological choices such as the provision of ward dung carts and river cleansing operations. In other words, some forms of city governmental organization resulted from the demands of material conditions of urban life and, likewise, physical sanitation technologies depended on governmental structures to be effective. The dissertation defines the roles of city corporations and individuals in several sanitation issues, primarily street maintenance, waste management, and river cleansing from roughly 1350 to 1600 in England and Scandinavia. A transnational perspective is employed to identify broader trends that characterize sanitation in northern late medieval cities. The written evidence relies heavily, although not exclusively, on the city council records from the Swedish city of Stockholm and English cities of Coventry, Norwich, and York. In addition to the written sources, the evidence includes archeological finds from a wider array of cities in Scandinavia (the areas which today are Denmark, Norway, and Sweden) and England.

Available online at UVa library (free).

Norsk sammendrag: Avhandlingen min undersøker utviklingen av en sanitær infrastruktur, spesielt for avfallshåndtering og gaterenhold in senmiddelalderens England og Skandinavia. Hovedspørsmalene jeg undersøker er: Hvordon påvirket fysiske sanitære behov administrative funksjoner og strukturer i middelalderbyer? Hvilken innflytelse hadde byregjeringens politikk på utviklingen av middelalderske sanitasjonsystemer? For en norskspråklig artikkel om forskningen min, se “Avføring og statsbygging”.

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