Richard Lawton, Robert Lee, eds. Population and Society in Western European Port Cities, c. 1650-1939. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2002. xvi + 385 pp. $35.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-85323-907-9; $85.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-85323-435-7.
Reviewed by Jorg P. Vogele (Institut fur Geschichte der Medizin, Heinrich-Heine Universitat Dusseldorf)
Published on H-Urban (April, 2003)
Urbanization was a critical element in European demographic change in the modern period with an unprecedented population growth associated directly with rapid urban expansion. A more profound understanding of the character of urban population processes is a prerequisite for a thorough analysis of both demographic and social change in historical Europe. For this purpose a functional typology has been developed and applied in order to isolate specific urban features which in turn determined the demographic profile of individual cities. In this context, the importance of port cities has been elaborated. Port cities have played a critical role in urban development in Western Europe. Marketing and trade were important factors which affected the pattern of urban expansion or decline, and ports, after capital cities, frequently registered the highest population growth rates. In a general perspective, seaports accounted for almost 40 percent of the world's greatest cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants in the middle of the nineteenth century, and it was not until the mid-twentieth century that industrial towns took over their predominant role.
Whereas the editors analysed key aspects of urban population change in their earlier work in the Liverpool series (R. Lawton and R. Lee (eds.), Urban Population Developments in Western Europe from the Late-Eighteenth to the Early-Twentieth Century (Liverpool Studies in European Population, vol. 1), Liverpool, 1989), the present conference volume focuses explicitly on a port city typology. In their introduction Richard Lawton and Robert Lee develop a systematic approach to elaborate the demographic and socio-economic characteristics of Western European port cities. This includes key features of the demographic profile of port cities (including mortality, nuptiality, and fertility as well as in-migration as a central variable of port city growth), their local economy and labour market, their social conditions, as well as the ideology of merchant capital. The hypotheses developed in the general introductory chapter are tested in the ensuing series of selected micro-level case studies on major commercial ports in Western Europe: studies on Bremen (R. Lee and P. Marschalck), Cork (J. B. O'Brien), Genoa (G. Felloni), Glasgow (A. Gibb), Hamburg (C. Wischermann), Liverpool (R. Lawton), Malmo (G. Fridlizius), Nantes (A. Fahy), Portsmouth (B. Stapleton), and Trieste (M. Cattaruzza) provide profound and significant insight into the demographic and social dynamics and development of European port cities.
>From the case studies it becomes clear that, despite the differences in the individual experience of the ports, maritime commerce was a powerful factor behind urbanization, and port cities served as the nexus of the growing world market. As a consequence of this function, port cities were invariably prone to an increased risk of exposure, particularly to infectious diseases. Many of the dominant epidemic diseases, such as plague, cholera, typhoid, and yellow fever, were imported via port cities which, in turn, accelerated disease diffusion in coastal areas and dependent hinterlands. The individual demographic regimes of large ports were moulded by similar factors such as extending trading networks and high levels of in-migration, which aggravated the latent exposure risks of the indigenous population. At the same time, the predominance of unskilled and casual work, residential overcrowding, and poor-quality housing were responsible for a high background mortality. This situation continued to exist until the middle of the twentieth century, as the port economy with its strong reliance on trade was characterized by the absence of a strong and widely based manufacturing industry. Even where ports benefitted from a diversification in their employment structure, the dependence on raw material imports remained and the new industrial sectors were characterized by a low technological level. As a result, migrants were often attracted by port cities because of the proliferation of casual and unskilled jobs. Long-distance migration and a broad ethnic mix became remarkable features of port city populations, which invariably had an important impact on the demographic and social consequences. A further characteristic that distinguished ports from other cities was similarly the result of the predominance of trade and commerce and the ideology of merchant capital. Despite the increasing expansion of voting rights in many European states, port cities were still governed by quasi oligarchies. Trieste, for example, was dominated by the "corpo mercantile," a small, interrelated merchant elite (Cattaruzza). Consequently, it is not surprising to see that trade interests and a constant concern over cash expenditures were at the centre of local politics. At the same time, however, the merchants' interests were national but above all international and they had overcome local dependencies. This was facilitated by the fact that the merchants were not deep-rooted in the city. In Liverpool, for example, almost none of the merchants were born in the city itself. Especially in situations of crises this could have had major consequences for the port cities. Moreover, the dominance of merchant capital directly affected the contemporary response to public health issues and had a profound impact on the selection and implementation of specific strategies. Whereas the need to handle health risks was initially apparent in port cities, there was, however, an unusually high dependency on charity and philanthropy, and a general absence of municipal efforts toward social welfare provision. In many port cities, as it is shown for Malmo (Fridlizius), there was little commitment to effective public health reform. Furthermore, as merchant capital was mobile, it could easily be removed in times of crises and shifted to other places as soon as business orientation or trade routes changed. In the case of Liverpool, this led to a fast and massive decline of the city in the course of the twentieth century.
Whereas research on ports often provides an outside look, directed towards the sea, analysing, for example, trade, capital flow, or maritime routes, the present conference volume deliberately looks inside and proffers an original and excellent insight into the population history of Western European port cities. It even goes far beyond that, analysing the interrelationship between population history, social conditions, and economic development within the framework of a port typology. Approaching the general theme from slightly different angles the contributions keep to a high standard, and beyond that, clearly demonstrate the strength of interdisciplinary research, drawing explicitly on work in economic, demographic, maritime, medical, social, and urban history. As with all good scholarly work, the volume opens new perspectives, thus leaving many questions raised in this context unanswered, but making it clear that a further exploration of the theme is essential to broaden our understanding of modern population processes.
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Jorg P. Vogele. Review of Lawton, Richard; Lee, Robert, eds., Population and Society in Western European Port Cities, c. 1650-1939.
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