German Home Towns is a very forward-looking book. I say that not because it proved so influential—although it certainly had a profound impact on my generation of historians. My point is more prosaic, namely that German Home Towns occupies a set point in time and social milieu, the inaugural moment of an attenuated phase of stability for a peculiar type of human community in central Europe. That moment, of course, is 1648; the milieu is that of walled and privileged towns—large and differentiated enough for self-sufficiency in most economic functions, but not so large or so differentiated as to generate the degrees of stratification and anonymity that characterized larger commercial or manufacturing cities. In contrast to metropolitan centers, “home towns” embraced all inhabitants in a web of face-to-face relations, at once integrating, enabling, and controlling all inhabitants through guilds and the political systems built around them. Usually, almost all hometown inhabitants were citizens, too—again in contrast to larger cities, with their substrates of noncitizen residents. From the vantage of 1648, and within the stream of early modern German history, German Home Towns peers into a future of confrontation with “movers and doers”—those vanguards of the “general estate,” as Walker called them, who trampled idiosyncrasy, leveled difference, and, with some help from Napoleon, replaced both local corporatism and the imperial “incubator” with provincial and national systems of general, liberal delegation.
Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.