The City in European History

Discussion Questions for Girouard, Cities and People, Chapters 1-4

I. Chapters 1 (The Revival of the West) and 2 (Manufacture, Trade, and Money) deal primarily with economic matters.

1. Describe (using the text, the map, and the pictures) the city of Constantinople in the 10th-12th centuries.  What impact did the appearance of this city have on the western European who visited it?.  What was the symbolic importance of the sack of this city by the Crusaders in 1203?

2. Describe the nature and variety of trade in Western Europe during the Middle Ages.  Pay particular attention to the relationship between medieval markets or fairs and urban growth in the cases of (to take several examples) Florence, Ypres, and Paris.

3. Describe the role of the merchant, the banker, and the money-changer in the medieval city.  Where and how were they housed?

4. Describe manufacturing (especially the textile industry) in the medieval city.

5. Describe the topography (layout) of a typical textile city like Florence.  How was the city organized?  Where and how did the different social classes live?

II. Chapter 3 (Church and State) focuses on the roles of the Catholic Church and secular government in the medieval town.

1. Study the townscapes (of Lüneburg and Cologne) in Cities and People (pp. 42-43); what do they tell about the respective importance of church and secular government in the medieval town?

2. Describe the role of the church in caring for the sick, the poor, and the troubled.  What was its part in the medieval educational system?

3. How did urban government change during the Middle Ages?  What was the role of the “ruler” and city government (p. 52)?  Describe the services provided by the secular government, including bridges, quays, cranes, and water; how were these services paid for?

4. Who were the leaders of the secular government and what types of buildings did they erect?

III. Chapter 4 (The Texture of Life) deals with the topography and social layout of the  medieval city.

1. Describe the characteristics of the major types of medieval city plans (the grid, the circle, and the web-plan).  What do they tell us about the nature of the medieval city itself?

2. Describe the varieties of housing in a medieval city.  What was a fauxbourg (also faubourg) and why were they important?

3. Describe the nature of daily life in a medieval city, paying particular attention to the role of the government; work; catastrophes and violence, including executions; and holidays, festivals and processions.  What were the “stews” and what do they tell us about the medieval city?

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Last Update: 29 January 2004

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