chapter  6
The Early Modern city
Pages 56

Though historians may disagree about whether the Early Modern era should be categorized as either a footnote to the Middle Ages or a forerunner of the modern world, most would probably agree with Friedrichs’ conclusion that Early Modern life was fundamentally ‘burdened by technical and scientific limitations of enormous consequence’ (Friedrichs, 1995, p. 12; Gutkind, 1971).1 This overwhelmingly negative view of the technical capabilities of Early Modern Europeans permeates urban studies of this period - to such an extent, in fact, that discussion of technology in the burgeoning literature on the Early Modern city has been negligible. As a result, where it is acknowledged that change did occur in the cities of this period, this is rarely attributed to technological advance. A well-founded example of this approach would be the explanation routinely offered to account for the rapid growth in population of many of northern Europe’s towns and cities in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Case-studies consistently demonstrate that urban deathrates exceeded birth-rates, largely as a result of the high incidence of epidemics and infant mortality, with population growth over time largely to be accounted for by mass rural migration to the cities. Such demographic studies have thus helped to underline the point that low levels of technical knowledge - in this case medicine and hygiene - were a feature of the Early Modern scene (Palliser, 1974, p.59).