Lest We Forget, Lest We Forget

I grew up reading military history and Rudyard Kipling. There’s some overlap there, given that Kipling wrote about wars, both official and unofficial, and about soldiers. Kipling’s “Recessional” served as a warning—this glory too shall pass, and there are limits to the power of weapons alone. I recall thinking, in the political back-patting after Desert Shield/Desert Storm, that we needed more “Recessional” and less “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean.”

Memorial Day is to the US what Remembrance Day is to the Commonwealth. It is a day set aside to honor the men and women who died while serving in the US military. I get irked when people conflate it with Veterans’ Day and/or July 4th. No, it should be a sober commemoration of lives lost, and a day to give thanks for the men and women who were willing to die to protect their country and their comrades.

Image source: https://ivn.us/posts/5-facts-about-memorial-day-you-did-not-know

From Kipling’s “Song of the Dead.”

We have fed our sea for a thousand years
And she calls us, still unfed,
Though there’s never a wave of all her waves
But marks our English dead:
We have strawed our best to the weed’s unrest,
To the shark and the sheering gull.
If blood be the price of admiralty,
Lord God, we ha’ paid in full!

There’s never a flood goes shoreward now
But lifts a keel we manned;
There’s never an ebb goes seaward now
But drops our dead on the sand —
But slinks our dead on the sands forlore,
From the Ducies to the Swin.
If blood be the price of admiralty,
If blood be the price of admiralty,
Lord God, we ha’ paid it in!

We must feed our sea for a thousand years,
For that is our doom and pride,
As it was when they sailed with the ~Golden Hind~,
Or the wreck that struck last tide —
Or the wreck that lies on the spouting reef
Where the ghastly blue-lights flare.
If blood be the price of admiralty,
If blood be the price of admiralty,
If blood be the price of admiralty,
Lord God, we ha’ bought it fair!

“All gave some, some gave all.”


Book Review: The Great Transition

Campbell, Bruce M. S. The Great Transition: Climate, Disease, and Society in the Late Medieval World. (Cambridge University Press, 2016.) Kindle Edition

Everyone knows that Europe, and parts of the rest of the world, went to H-ll in a handbasket in the 1300s, and didn’t really regain its footing until the Renaissance. Why? The Black Death. Oh, and the Hundred Years War. Then we added “lousy weather.” It turns out that a whole lot of things were going wrong for Western Civilization, and the Black Death was the final straw.

Bruce Campbell brings together climatology, commercial and economic history, diplomatic history, genetics, and epidemiology to explain why the 1100s-1200s in some ways set up the economic and population stress that were already in place before 1300. The Great European Famine, then the waves of the Black Death, were only the most visible part of the depression in progress. He makes a compelling case for looking back to the late 1200s for the start of the “Terrible Fourteenth Century.” Worse, the stagnant population and economy that followed the Black Death lasted until almost 1500.

Historians have done a lot of work on the Black Death, and on the Hundred Years war between the French and English monarchs. In the 20th century, environmental historians began studying the climate downturn that began in the 1300s and didn’t really end until 1850 or so. As it turns out, the bad weather all over the northern hemisphere played a role in the eruption of a new strain of Yrsenia Pestis and its transmission west. That part might be familiar to readers, although Campbell goes into the genetics of Y. pestis to confirm that indeed, the Black Death was that very bug and not something else.

However, much of the book looks at the economic and demographic conditions of Western Europe (England, the Low Countries, northern Italy). The population was growing thanks to a combination of new technologies, a stable weather pattern that lasted for several centuries, and the greater ease of trade which allowed for moving food-stuffs as well as goods. The open routes east (relatively open) enhanced access to luxury goods, but also turned into a siphon for European silver and gold. If that silver ever ran low, or the trade routes became choked by changes in the Islamic world, trouble might begin. This was the era of the Champaign Fairs, the birth of banking, and increasing stress on the population as subdividing land reached its limits. People pushed into marginal areas, growing mostly grains. Land was scarce, labor very cheap, and nutrition starting to decline.

By 1300, Campbell argues, the system was at a tipping point. Silver had gotten very scarce and even re-opening mines didn’t help. Too many people needed land. Several nobles and the king of France ended the agreements to protect merchants going to the great fairs, and trade began to slow. The loss of the Crusader kingdoms in the Levant and the rise of the Ottomans strangled Italian trade with Asia. Only silver could make up the currency for Asia, and silver had become scarce, depressing trade even farther. And then the weather went bad. Three wet years badly hurt western European grain output. Next came a cattle and sheep disease that eliminated up to 70% of the livestock. The females that survived were less fertile. Without cattle, there was no traction for plowing or heavy transport. Without sheep, no wool for clothing. Famine swept Europe. The Wars of Edward I, II, and III didn’t help England or Scotland. Or France and the Low Countries. And we all know what happened in 1346-52. The second wave of the Black Death, a decade after the first one, killed many of the children born in the interval, as well as killing people who had escaped the first round. Stormy, unpredictable weather continued for the rest of the century. Trade grew more difficult, and only the Low Countries seemed able to do more than just hang in there.

Campbell’s use of economic records is solid. It’s some of the best work I’ve read in quite a while, and he is careful to show what we can’t know as well as what we can infer. I admit, I skimmed some of the genetics of Y. pestis, because he’s preaching to the choir in my case. It is a useful antidote to some of the odder theories about the Black Death. What I really liked was his pulling together so many different disciplines to give a much more complete picture of the 1200s-1500. I’d never thought about how the European diet changed after the Black Death. It was colder, with fewer people, so grain was less important than wool (for more layers of clothing). Sheep became more important, and meat took up a larger percentage of the European diet. The population didn’t grow again until the late 1400s, when the Black Death really faded out, so people earned more and opted to work less. Urban areas grew more slowly, forcing industry to become more rural. The “green and pleasant land” of small English cities and rural-centered life was actually a result of the Black Death and all that surrounded it, not England just being England.

I recommend this book to historians of the Middle Ages, economic historians, and people with a little knowledge of the period who want more. It’s not a straight narrative history like A Distant Mirror but it’s not statistics and documents like Ole Benedictow, The Black Death.

FTC Disclaimer: I purchased this book with my own money for my own use, and received no remuneration fronm the author or publisher for this review.

Travel Back Then: Who Did, Who Didn’t, Why?

Medieval and earlier people didn’t travel. Unless they did. But it wasn’t far. Unless it was half-way around the world and back, perhaps several times. Or they were always traveling. Being able to move around was a symbol of power, unless it was a sign of poverty – voluntary or otherwise.

Confused yet?

Most people, especially serfs and others in a state of villainage (meaning legally bound in some way to a place or person, but not owned outright) only went as far as they had to. Perhaps they might go to a small market, or a fair if it was within walking distance and they got permission. Travel was not easy, and hospitality varied a great deal. There are still people today in Britain and Europe who have not gone more than 30-60 miles from their place of birth, and they are quite happy with that. There are some people who are descended from the people who lived in that same area several thousand years ago, which also suggests that folks didn’t wander or mix all that often.

Religious pilgrimages did encourage travel, perhaps as far as Rome or Jerusalem. Often it was to a closer site, like Canterbury, or Cologne, or St. Ives, or Santiago Campostella, or St. Patrick’s Purgatory. Most pilgrims traveled in a group for safety as well as company. How dangerous were the roads? Again, it varied. If you were traveling on business to the Champaign Fairs in the 1000s-1100s and a little later, it was very safe, because a lot of powerful people benefited from the trade and taxes. If you were well-armed but not wealthy looking, or if you were obviously poor and devout, you’d probably be left alone. That left a lot of people who might be the target of thieves, nobles looking for labor, nobles and others looking for ransom and tax money, and the occasional homicidal maniac (like the guy in France who was a mass murderer. People said he was a werewolf. Nah.)

The Holy Roman Emperors and a few other nobles traveled constantly, because they had to. There were no capital cities, unless you counted Rome and Constantinople. After 1066, London grew in importance, as did Paris, but the capital was where the monarch or ruling noble happened to be. Charlemagne was all over the place on the European mainland, as were his successors. I joke that certain medieval figures were “high mileage” but it was literally true. Otto I and Otto II criss-crossed northern Europe and swung down into Italy a few times. Frederick Barbarossa was all over the map, north and south of the Alps, playing whack-a-mole with Moors, frisky nobles (Henry of Saxony), the occasional pope … They also had the infrastructure to support their perigrinations, something normal people lacked unless you were going on a very well known pilgrimage route.

Merchants and raiders, or merchant raiders (aka Vikings) got around. They had to. By the late 1200s, some were moving less because of the development of banking and letters of credit, but goods still had to be moved and sold. The Hansa merchants always traveled, even after the Italians settled down a little. The Vikings? Oh boy did the young men get around. A few of the women, too. Their victims also saw a lot of the world, although not of their own free well. Going from Norway to Ireland to the Byzantine Empire then up the Black Sea and Dnieper to Kiev thence to the Baltic wasn’t rare. One former Varangian Guard ended up in a remote valley in Austria. I’d love to know his story. Perhaps he had a hot temper and needed to relocate often. Or maybe he had an itchy foot. Or perhaps he made a religious vow and became a sort of hermit in the middle of nowhere. All were possible. Merchants tended to cluster together for business reasons, and a Hansa trader or Italian merchant working the Champaign Fairs had a network of inns, confraternity connections, and other places to stay and rest.

Then you have “that one guy,” the dude who never quite settled down. These are the ones that seem like normal blokes until you find out “oh, yes, his parish record says he went to Jerusalem twice.” Or she, in a few very rare occasions. Or they go wander off here there and everywhere and come back with stories and a little money and some interesting skills. Or they are found a thousand miles from home, per isotope studies, leaving everyone to wonder how he got there. There’s always been a part of the western European population that has to go see what’s over the next hill.

I’ve been talking about men. Why? Because very few women traveled. That wasn’t their job. Some noblewomen moved around for marriages, taking a few servants with them. Some unusual individuals, like Dam Margery Kempe, got around. It was not safe, and often laws required women not to go farther than X distance from their home parish unless they had special permission from their family, their overlord, and their parish priest. Noble women who joined the church were a partial exception, but all scholars I’ve read insist that only because of their male relatives’ power did the church women have any authority. I should add, these are all books about France, Britain, and the Rhineland. The eastern part of the Holy Roman Empire was a rather different story, based on German-language works, but I could well be missing something there.

So it is true that medieval people rarely traveled. It is also true that medieval people traveled all over the place for faith, for war, for business, for personal reasons, for all of the above at once. We can make some general assumptions, but there’s always an exception.

Armed Forces Day 2023

A reprint because of Day Job and writing.

The third Saturday in May is Armed Forces Day. To me, it marks the start of what I sort of think of as “Patriotic Season,” which includes Memorial Day (actual and observed), Flag Day, and peaks with the Fourth of July and Independence Day. Armed Forces Day was instituted in 1949 in order to bring all four of the branches of the military under one roof as far as celebrating their “days.” It went along with the creation of the Air Force as separate from the US Army (no more “Army Air Corps,” and “Army Air Force,” even though I knew older vets who always sang, “Nothing can stop the Army Air Corps” until the day they died.) It also marked the creation of the Department of Defense, as opposed to the Department of War and separate Departments of Army, Navy, and now Air Force. Continue reading

Mothers’ Day

Mothers’ Day started from two threads. One was a woman in the upper South who worried about the living conditions of women in Appalachia, and about maternal and infant mortality before and after the Civil War. The other was a poet who urged mothers’ to work together to oppose war and work toward peace.

Anna Jarvis was the daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis, who had worked to improve the lives of women in Appalachia, and had formed assistance groups during the Civil War. Julie Ward Howe wrote poems and tried to organize a women’s peace movement centered on mothers. Anna Jarvis wanted to honor all mothers, and to encourage more recognition of the contributions of women to everyday life. Julie Ward Howe had started a local Mothers’ Day, but it had not caught on well. Anna Jarvis pushed harder, and the idea spread. Eventually Woodrow Wilson proclaimed that the second Sunday in May would be a day to honor mothers. The cards, flowers, gifts, and other things came later.

Not every country honors Mothers’ Day on the same day as the US. I know that about 13 years ago, several countries postponed Mothers’ Day when it would have coincided with the Western celebration of Pentecost. There was much (quiet) grumbling from the choir and assistant minister when the church where I sang at the time opted to postpone Pentecost instead. We wore red vestments anyway, and glared at the top of our lungs, so to speak. Anyway.

For Catholics, May is a month to give special consideration to the Virgin Mary, so it is especially fitting to honor all mothers then. Since roughly 1990, the day has expanded to include step-mothers, adoptive mothers, “mother-figures in our lives,” and pretty much all care givers. Even so, there are people who snarl about “well, some mothers are abusive and honoring mothers will offend/ distress someone.”

Since, thus far, without mothers, there would be no one around to grumble or to celebrate, I tend to fall down on the side of honoring mothers.

We’ve come a rather long way from the days of hoping to mobilize mothers in order to prevent war. I suspect Anna Jarvis would not be pleased with the commercialization of what was supposed to be semi-religious and quiet. But that applies to most holidays.

Start With a Work Song …

Actually, I first heard the— Parody? Tribute? Homage?

Anyway, a song based on the tune, theme, and pattern of the chanty via Peter Grant and a host of other bloggers. The original was a work song from New Zealand, sung by on-shore whalers (about whom more later.)

The parody is “The Kittyman” by the Trailerpark Boys.

It’s a great parody, and you can hear the work-song rhythms.

The original is “The Wellerman.”

An artistic version of the original.

So, who was a Weller Man anyway? He was an employee of the Weller Brothers, a trio of settlers in New Zealand who made their fortune supplying whalers with tea, sugar, run, rope, harpoons, clothing, flour, and everything else you can think of. They were chandlers in the early 1800s. The song originated, as best anyone can tell, from an on-shore whaling station, where whales were dragged onto the beach to be butchered.

Supply boats went out to some of the whaling stations, and to the whaling ships that hunted there and brought supplies. Tea, sugar, rum, rope, “slops” (sailors clothing), food, and other things came, and whale oil, baleen, and teeth went back on-shore. Or the ship’s master and crew bought on credit, and paid after they got paid.

I’ve mentioned before that I grew up listening to sea shantys of various kinds, from “Blow the Man Down” to “Shenandoah” and “Mingulay Boat Song” and “The Greenland Whaler.” They were songs for civilian ships, merchants and whalers. They set the pace and kept men from getting too bored with the work. “Shenandoah” and “Mingulay” were both capstan shantys, sung when you needed a slow, steady pace as the capstan wound in the anchor chain or ropes. Mingulay is an island near Scotland.

I prefer a little “rougher” sounding version from a Revels record, but it doesn’t seem to have been uploaded by anyone.

Whaling and Things of the Past

For reasons that will be apparent tomorrow, I was musing about whaling. One of my favorite books growing up was H. C. Holling’s book Seabird. It is a history of ships and sailing, from the days of the whaling boats in the early 1800s to the steam liners of the 20th century, as told by an ivory bird that passes down through a family. I was also listening to sea chantys, many of which were sung or chanted on the whaling boats, or are about whaling.

People hunted whales for their meat (plentiful), fat (plentiful), teeth and baleen, bones, and other body products. Europeans shifted to industrial-scale whale hunting as a source of light and very light industrial oil until the desired kinds of whales had almost gone extinct. Then we switched to petroleum. A few places still hunt whales as a cultural preservation practice, or for research practices (and then eat some of the results because there’s no point in wasting the whale, right? *coughJapancough*) Back when I was growing up, “save the whales” was shorthand for environmental preservation, humpback whale songs were worked into music, and whales were sort of trendy. Now they are back in the news because it seems that the off-shore wind turbines produce harmonics that kill sea life, including lots of whales. Just like their blades wipe out birds and bats on land. Hunting whales is verboten, but humans seem to have found another way to mess with them. Alas.

Some time ago, as I was looking at books for Red 2.0, Seabird came to mind. The problem is not Red 2.0, but one of Red’s parents, who is rather sensitive to things like little sketch pictures of flensing whale blubber, slaughtering animals, and so on. Not that the parent has a problem with proper slaughter of animals, but, well, whaling is different. When I was Red 2.0’s age, whaling was just a thing people did in the past and didn’t do any more. It didn’t bother me. But then a LOT of things people used to do don’t bother me the way they’re supposed to. And yes, I’m one of those really strange people who read the whaling parts of Moby Dick because I thought the technical details were cool and interesting to learn about.

It’s a form of pragmatism, I suppose. People did things back then that we don’t do today. Some of those things society has decided are wrong to do, like hunt whales, wear egrets on our heads, own other people [unless they are adults and agree to it, and even then it is frowned upon by a LOT of western society], carve our names on everything, beat up on weaker societies, and so on. Not everyone agrees with these changes, and so slavery is still practiced, female children are still killed (in utero), and there’s always That One Dude who has to mess up the painting/statue/tree/whatever for the rest of us. Or who gives crayons to unsupervised small children and is horrified that they draw on the statues …

Whaling doesn’t bother me. It was in the past, the culture around whaling is fascinating, the songs and rituals are intriguing to learn. How exactly do you reduce tons of temporarily-floating dead mammal into barrels of oil and packable teeth and other things, while at sea, without motors and metal cables and electric heaters? Oh, and without catching your boat on fire as you do all this stuff? What skills were needed? What was the reward? It’s a part of the past, and I study it as such. Whale oil still has some uses, and the few stocks of the stuff are carefully guarded and doled out for specific purposes. We have not found an economical way to duplicate really good whale oil for a few specialty applications. Emphasis on “economical,” because the batches would be so small. Abergris has yet to be properly duplicated because of it’s chemical complexity. Plus sometimes, the whales got even, either on their way out, or like that rogue sperm whale in the Pacific that hunted down whaling ships.

Some people believe that modern people should be terribly upset and offended by things in the past. Like whaling, and child labor in the US and England, or slavery practiced by Europeans and Americans. Or by how certain laws discriminated against women before the 1800s. I tend to shrug and say, “Yes, that’s the way it was. We as a society decided that it was wrong, or was no longer needed, and so we changed. That was then, this is now.” I have trouble getting worked up over parts of the past.

I think I’m Odd.

“There Was a Time in This Fair Land …”

Do you hear the rest of the phrase?

How about, “The legend lives on from the Chippawa on down …”?

“If you could read my mind love,” …?

I grew up listening to, and singing along with, Gordon Lightfoot. And Ian and Sylvia, Odetta, and other folk-rock musicians. Lightfoot’s music is what I remember the most, and what I can sing at the drop of a hat, or without dropping the hat. The ballads sank in early, probably because MomRed sang the Child Ballads to me and Sib. (Which probably explains a lot about my morbid turns of plot and personality …) I could warble along with “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” or “Canadian Railroad Trilogy.” I didn’t always understand all the references in things like “Black Day in July” or “Circle of Steel,” or “Go-go Girl,” but I got the basic idea.

Lightfoot was a storyteller in song, catching current events and framing them in music. It’s an old tradition. He also critiqued society at the time, pointing out the flaws “see the soldier with his gun/who must be dead to be admired:” Vietnam-era anyone? Some of his songs ache, because he screwed up a lot of things with alcohol and bad choices. It was partly a generational thing, I suspect, given how young a lot of the folk-rock and folk singers of the 1960s-70s died. “Early Morning Rain” ranks up there with “Summer wages” (Ian Tyson) as odes to bad decisions and their consequences.

Gordon Lightfoot had a magnificent voice, which is probably why my parents locked onto him. He was a baritone, meaning I could sing along without hurting myself.

I also like his descriptions of nature. “Pussy-willows, Cattails” comes to mind.

Is it a ghost story? Is she a woman, or a dog?

The next one is probably the first of his I taught myself to sing. Growing up in a railroad city (Omaha – Union Pacific) had something to do with it, I suspect.

And speaking of children, this one ranks there with the Irish Rovers’ “Winkin, Blinkin,’ and Nod” and “The Unicorn” as a childhood favorite.

For some reason, this last one always haunted me. I think because it is a nod to the problems of communication, and to Lightfoot’s many personal problems, but made universal.

And of course, the one song everyone seems to have heard of, one that has some of the most effective use of steel guitar/pedal steel ever. The shipping museum in Duluth, MN has a great display about the Big Fitz and other ships of the Great Lakes.

Too Into Your Research?

I think I first voiced the idea when I was on Peter Grant’s blog some time ago, and the topic of people taking on roles came up. I pointed out the strange-to-me behavior of Martin Sheen acting as if he dictated foreign policy to the US. My guess was that he’d played the role of president for so long on The West Wing that he somehow thought he was the PotUS. And I know that people notice if I’ve been working in German a lot, because my Grammar more Germanic becomes.

Starting around 2015 or so, several historians who specialized in Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union, and some Russian escapees, began claiming that certain US politicians were dictators, or would become dictators, or were just like someone in one of the governments of Europe before 1940, or like Francisco Franco, and so on. I read their arguments, blinked a lot, and wondered what had happened to their powers of observation. I didn’t see that pattern in US politics. Populism, yes to an extent, political posturing of course, but not a slide into dictatorship or European nationalism. What was going on?

After a bit I caught on. Timothy Snyder, Anne Applebaum, and some Russian authors were seeing dictators in US politics because they’d seen so many dictators in their research that that had become all they saw. They had a mental pattern established based on their work. If something started to fit parts of that pattern, they filled in the rest without realizing it. And since the dictators they studied (or fled) were less-than-good, anything or anyone who started to fit that pattern was less-than-good. So Donald Trump was 3/4 of the way to being Putin or Peron, and so is anyone who gains a large populist following, no matter his or her politics.

I can sympathize to an extent, because I’ve had moments where I caught myself not leaving something in the past where it belonged. And it’s easy, when you have been immersed in something, to see bits of it in unrelated things. Too, politicians in the US and Europe copy certain things from Italian Fascism (so did the NSDAP in Germany, Franco, and the Soviets) because the aesthetics and technique work to get people stirred up and excited. No, I’m not seeing the swastika in everything. I do look at certain designs of the US eagle and sigh, because you can see the influences. I roll my eyes at some stage designs for the same reason. Mussolini’s people borrowed from the American Progressive movement, FDR’s people borrowed from the Italians, so did others, and it went back and forth.

The National Recovery Act blue eagle, used by the federal government in the 1930s. Source:https://fee.org/articles/world-war-i-opened-the-door-for-central-planning/

Now look at the example below. They are not identical. But you can see similar nods. The Progressives who became FDR’s cabinet and other advisors were impressed by what seemed to be happening in Italy in the 1920s, and wanted to borrow that success.

Italian Fascist eagle Source:https://www.ebay.com/itm/Roman-SPQR-Italian-WW2-Fascist-Eagle-with-Fasces-Pin-Broach-Mussolinis-Italy-/252481946805

Likewise, the academics and others see patterns and assume that what happened there is happening here. Martin Sheen dictates foreign policy, Timothy Snyder sees Stalin lurking in American presidential candidates, and Anne Applebaum echoes him in her own way. Refugees from Russia hear echoes of Putin in President Trump’s hyperbole, or in Marjorie Taylor-Green’s rhetoric. We all do it, in our own ways, but it’s been especially striking among some popular historians.

It’s interesting. I will still read Snyder and Applebaum’s earlier work, because it is solid in those fields, but I ignore their most recent writings.

Medieval City Residence

Stadtluft macht frei.

A lot of terms and conditions applied, and the details were the hard part. How do you stay for a year in a small city where everyone has to have a sponsor, a pass, a place, a confraternity, and a job? Where everyone knows each other? And where, if things got rough, you’d be the first one kicked out to “root, hog, or die,” with the emphasis on die? It didn’t stop people from trying, but it was hard. And even then you might be free, but you still were not a citizen, and would be the second one kicked out when trouble came.

We’re used to cities where you can come and go at will, stay overnight if you can find a room or a campsite, and no one demands to know who you are and what right you have to be in, oh, Versailles KY, or Peachtree City, GA, or Chadron, NE. That’s a very modern change. For two thousand years or so, to be in a true city was to be inside walls. Walls had gates. To pass through the gates, unless something very, very special was in progress, meant that you had verifiable business in the city and someone to speak for you, or a letter of permission. No pass? No enter. Once you came in, you went where you were supposed to, did what you were there for, and departed before the closing of the gates. If you stayed for the night, you had to register and stay in that one place. The authorities got and kept a list of who was where, and why.

We assume that you are free to move, unless you are not. Back then, it was the other way around. Only the politically powerful or a few clergy and monks had real freedom of movement, and even then there were conditions and understandings. A free city could lock out the local bishop, or even the emperor (or lock up the emperor if he didn’t pay his bills. See Bruges for details.) Modern Europe is going back a little to “you’re not really free to go anywhere, maybe,” or so it seems at times.

In some ways the medieval city pass was very much like when I was in university in Germany. I had to register with the local police, and got a very elaborate two-page document of permission in my passport saying that I was in town for a valid cause and should be left alone unless I misbehaved. The university also kept a list of who was attending, from where, and on what program/visa/sponsorship.

In order to move to a city and life there full time, you needed to show that you would earn your keep and not be a professional beggar. Or that you had a connection inside the city who would keep you out of trouble (basically post a bond for you). In some places, you had to be approved by your guild, religious confraternity, or monastic order to remain as a journeyman or to join the local ranks. In other places, the town council checked up on people. This meant that “going to the city to look for work” was often a challenge, with a few exceptions. Cities rebuilding after an attack, or after the Plague dropped the population, or international port cities, sometimes had a little more space. But not much.

If a serf, villain, or bound peasant could stay in an imperial free city for a year and a day, he or she was free from any earlier feudal ties. That meant hiding, finding work, staying out of trouble, and praying that nothing happened to cause the city leaders to force out all non-citizens. Once the stranger passed the year and a day point, he was a free man. Which meant that he had even fewer protections and fall-backs than a serf or bound peasant. And he could still be ejected from within the walls.

Someone could live all their lives in a city but not earn citizenship. Once an individual had citizenship, he (more rarely she) participated in juries and government, in civic defense, in religious events, and contributed money and labor to keeping the place running. Oh, and he had the right of protection when war/famine/plague struck. To lose citizenship and be cast out was pretty much a death sentence. Such rights did not come easily, and required proving that you had value to the city as a whole. People like Alberich Dürer and others made special note when they were granted citizenship of a city, and the fact was noted in the municipal records. Stadtluft might bring freedom for a few, but it brought more expectations and duties than a modern urban resident might imagine.

How many people would want to live in a place today if they had to serve on the police and in the National Guard and Fire Department, serve on a jury on a regular business, pay extra taxes, attend a place of worship at least twice a week AND teach religious classes and contribute to suppers and charity works, and show proof of solvency and good behavior?