Stephan Sander-Faes (Istvan Deak Visiting Professor) Publishes Article on Thievery Investigations in Rural Bohemia

Monday, November 26, 2018

Stephan Sander-Faes (Istvan Deak Visiting Professor) has published a new article in Frühneuzeit-Info: ‘“Ohngeacht alles gebrauchten Ernsts und arrests”: Diebstahlsprozesse im ländlichen Südböhmen um 1700’ [Thievery Investigations in Rural Bohemia, c. 1700], vol. 28 (2018): 135-48.

Abstract: Recent decades witnessed the ‘return’ of the state in mainstream historiographic discourse. This development was greatly facilitated by the contemporaneous demise of histories of everyday life and social history in general as well as the seemingly unstoppable emergence of early modern ‘fiscal-military state[s]’. In combination, this dual shock reinforced the already-existing biases, i.e., History’s focus on the Courts’ great men, military and political affairs, and the nascent milieus of the urban bourgeois circles. Given the prevailing foci of Crime History—gender, age, and social status—, theft and punishment, especially so outside the afore-mentioned spatial circumstances, continue to remain blind spots in both ‘statist’ and crime-related historical inquiries.
By contrast, my paper looks at the intersections of these fields of research. Using the large and composite Bohemian possessions of the princes of Eggenberg, centred around Český Krumlov in the present-day Czech Republic, as an example, I am investigating instances of thievery around 1700. The Bohemian Lands, situated both in the heart of Central Europe as well as on the periphery of the Habsburg monarchy (Bohemia was the Emperor’s richest crown land yet, in many ways, far away from Vienna), constitute the context for my argument: State integration, understood as elite processes that gradually re-ordered social relations outside the urban centres and milieus, was accompanied by loss of social cohesion and often (in-) directly encouraged the transgression of norms by the majority of people due to economic stress, exploitation, and the struggle for bare survival. Thanks to this approach, certain reciprocities about the two certainties of life, ‘death and taxes’, with Daniel Defoe and Benjamin Franklin, that are usually overlooked or ignored by both historiographic traditions, become visible once again.
By means of carefully analysing the relevant sources such as initial reports by village judges, interrogation protocols, correspondence by princely officials, ducal decrees, and the like, the following questions are addressed: What drove rural subjects to break the law? How did both local and higher authorities as well as the victims and neighbours react to these acts of thievery? And, lastly, what were (are) the implications of investigating such records that, at least in the Bohemian context, stand to be incorporated into the larger framework of early modern crime history?