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Environment and History

Imposition, Emulation and Adaptation: Regulatory Regimes in the Commons of Early Modern Germany

Paul Warde

Environment and History 19 (2013): 313-337. doi: 10.3197/096734013X13690716950109

New institutional approaches to the commons have seen a proliferation of work in recent years that has overturned stereotypes of ‘tragedy’ and mismanagement. Much of this work remains centred, however, on the fortunes of individual commons and relates changes in management to local challenges and experiences. This article uses a large sample of by-laws from commons in south-western Germany to show how regulation has emerged as a complex historical process of imposition of rules by lordship, emulation of neighbours and response to crisis; it demonstrates that relying on the internal evidence of individual by-laws can be quite misleading about the circumstances of their creation. The article argues that a major stimulus to by-law recording was intra-communal conflict, and, as the results of negotiated resolution of these disputes, we should be cautious of reading by-laws as records of ecological optimisation rather than attempts to resolve conflicts over the allocation of resources. 

KEYWORDS: Common property; common rights; by-laws; Germany; wood; grazing.

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