Intra-regional diversification of society, economy and cultural landscape in Late Medieval Drenthe (Northeast Netherlands)
By Theo Spek
XIV International Economic History Congress (2006)
Introduction: In many European countries during the transition from the Late Middle Ages (1300-1500 AD) to the Early Modern Period (1500-1700 AD) we can see an increasing interweaving of local and regional rural economies to a much stronger inter-regional and internationally structured protocapitalistic market economy. Whereas agricultural production in the High Middle Ages (1000-1300 AD) was still being predominantly directed towards self subsistence or towards supplying regional urban markets, from the Late Middle Ages a much larger scale market system was slowly but surely coming into existence, in which each region gradually made its own niche in the newly created international economic field of force. Important late medieval urban centres were London, the cities in northern Italy and the highly urbanized region of Flanders in Belgium. The latter were eclipsed by Amsterdam and other cities from the the Western Netherlands from the second half of the 16th century onwards.
On a regional basis, the process of transition mentioned above seems to have been formed in many different ways. Thus, neighbouring regions that on first sight seemed to be very comparable, were by the Late Middle Ages beginning to develop in very diverse directions. In some regions farmers opted for either strategies of intensification or for specialisation in one or more promising products for the market. In other regions however we see strategies of extensification, the main objective being to develop market products that can be achieved using relatively little labour and/or capital. It is obvious that such strategic choices of large groups of farmers have had a considerable influence on the development of local and regional societies and cultural landscapes. The transition between the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Period is thus an important theme when studying the history of the European landscape.