Archaeology, Art history, History, Medieval and Early Modern studies, Political thought


Co-funded by the Open Society University Network (OSUN) and the Max Weber Kolleg of the University of Erfurt, Germany.



Course date

19 July - 28 July, 2021
Application deadline
14 February, 2021
Course Director(s): 

Katalin Szende

Department of Medieval Studies, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary

Zoë Opačić

Department of History of Art, Birkbeck, University of London, UK
Course Faculty: 

Ferenc Hörcher

Research Institute of Politics and Government, University of Public Service, Budapest, Hungary/ senior fellow, Institute of Philosophy, Research Centre for the Humanities

József Laszlovszky

Cultural Heritage Studies Program/Department of Medieval Studies, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary / Vienna, Austria

Susanne Rau 

Department of History, University of Erfurt, Germany

Felicitas Schmieder

Historisches Institut, Fern Universität Hagen, Germany

Bela Zsolt Szakacs

Department of Medieval Studies, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary

Throughout history cities and towns fulfilled a series of complex functions. They emerged in order to fulfil a key role in the production, exchange and consumption of commodities, as well as to serve as administrative centres for a district, region or realm. Therefore, they are characterized by populations larger, denser and more complex than that of the surrounding countryside. In order to manage this complexity efficiently, cities were given or gradually acquired a certain degree of autonomy and developed their own governing bodies and institutions, with varying degree of participation by inhabitants of different social and legal standing. The system of governance necessitated the use of administrative literacy and the appropriate shaping of the physical environment, including its open spaces, buildings and ornaments.  

This course aims to examine the notion of civic participation through a critical lens and against a longer historical perspective.  It will seek its origins in political thought and explore its forms of expression in written and visual media. The geographical focus of study will be Central Europe which provides a rich wellspring of sources and a fascinating field for interdisciplinary research combining art history, social history, pragmatic literacy and urban planning. This course will place a strong emphasis on the issues of preservation, protection and the value of conceptual and built heritage for modern societies.
The course is structured around a broad range of learning activities:
(1) thematic lectures given by faculty members,
(2) workshops based on a guided analysis of written or visual evidence
(3) thematically structured city walks in Budapest, Brno and Prague, where guided site visits will complement lecture and workshop discussions (travel and accommodation will be covered for all participants)
(4) seminars where participants of the course will have the opportunity to present their research topics and receive feedback.
The main subject areas will include:
(a) the urbanization of Central Europe and the topography of governance;
(b) the legal background of urban autonomy;
(c) secular architecture and the display of authority;
(d) sacred architecture and civic identity;
(e) civic participation and municipal administration.
The aims and methods of this course are closely aligned with current scholarly trends. Cities and towns have been the subject of historical, archaeological and architectural investigations, as well as studies on political thought. These studies have generated debates on the creation and growth of towns; on the role of seigniorial power, civic initiatives and external forces in these processes; and on the role of migration, colonization and cultural transfer in the spread of urbanization – just to name a few. The contribution of this course to the ongoing debates will be to link closely the administrative and spatial/architectural aspects, and to place Central Europe centre stage in a broader comparative perspective.
Target audience:
  • advanced undergraduate and graduate students, post docs
  • archivists and curators of municipal document or art collections with medieval holdings
  • specialists in urban tourism and heritage management
Minimum prerequisite: 2 years of completed BA studies in one of the disciplines indicated above