Wine as a Urban Cultural Phenomenon from the Middle Ages up the 19th century
The 42nd international conference on Urban History held by the Prague City Archives, Faculty of Arts of J. E. Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem, Institute of History of the Czech Academy of Sciences and Faculty of Humanities of Charles University
10–11 October 2023, Prague
Winemaking tradition in Central Europe dates back to the Middle Ages when, during the Luxembourg era, it expanded beyond the relatively limited business of mostly ecclesiastical circles and became one of the essential economic sectors of the urban economy and a business enterprise for individual inhabitants of towns. The Early Modern period was the golden era of grape cultivation in the suburbs of cities, one that was brought to its definitive end in the 17th century in connection with the transformation of land ownership, the negative consequences of social and economic development and, of equal significance, climate change. Wine in connection with the urban history of Bohemia has never ranked among the key historiographical topics; instead, research has been focused primarily on descriptions of the regional growth of winemaking in the exposed parts of northwest Bohemia and the Elbe River region. In this sense, the Prague towns are also no exception. Only the organisation of the administration of Prague’s vineyard economy has received a thorough treatment, but otherwise our knowledge is based on Zikmund Winter’s dated and chronologically narrowly defined cultural-historical work.
Taking into account the results of earlier research, we would like to focus the theme of our conference on the broad field of cultural history with an interdisciplinary scope that includes in particular the spheres of archaeology, ethnography, art history, literature and other social science disciplines. We are interested not only in wine and its perception as a beverage most commonly competing with beer, but also its period medicinal use. An important issue is the production of wine and its importance or specific contribution to the economy of towns and burghers and, on the other hand, the position of this commodity in the tax system of estates society and the related efforts of town councils to control the winemaking economy. Yet another topic should be the wine trade and its possible regulation on local markets and during import and export.
A special question is who exactly were the “people around wine” in towns: winemakers, merchants, wine-bar owners and, on the other hand, vineyard workers. How were their guilds organised and how did they operate? How were women involved in the wine business? And who were the people that were hired for seasonal vineyard work? Sources often mention that they were people on the fringes of society for whom the vineyards outside the town walls provided sanctuary. How did the everyday life of this group of people look beyond the town walls and what role did they play in towns, say, during times of escalating social and religious tension?