Hansischer Nachwuchsworkshop

Workshop 2: Attempts of standardization in Hanseatic trade

Being a member of the Hanse could have multiple economic advantages, among which a reduction in transaction costs in trade. These and similar themes were discussed during meetings of the Hanse. Transaction costs could be minimized by, among other things, standardization of measures and weights, the unification of norms of production, and by controls of quality. By means of such measurements, the expenses of individual merchants could be reduced significantly, since one no longer had to take care of controlling these aspects oneself.[1] Next to facets directly related to products, the Hanse also attempted, for instance, to create equal legal certainty for all its members everywhere, and to unify species.

During the workshop these Hanseatic attempts of standardization will be studied by taking the trade in beer as a starting point. In the late Middle Ages, beer was one of the most important export products of Northern Germany. Especially Bremen, Hamburg, Wismar, and Lübeck were major centres of export of beer, but also for the economy of more inland cities such as Braunschweig beer could be essential. Numerous sources in city archives, such as toll registers and city accounts, offer insight in the production of beer, the amount produced per city and the routes towards its consumers. The production and trade of beer has been relatively well researched (among others by Unger, Blanckenburg, and Stefke), but an overview of attempts of standardization by the Hanse has not yet been made.

Just like workshop 1, this theme focusses on the interrelation of individual cities, the region they lie in, and the Hanse. Which attempts of standardization were locally determined in the cities themselves, which were coordinated regionally, and in what cases did the Hanse intervene? By combining a local, regional and Hanseatic perspective, we aim to stimulate research into the role of the Hanse in attempts of standardization in medieval trade.

The workshop

As a result of the increasing attention to economic functions of the Hanse, attempts of standardization in Hanseatic trade have come to the fore as a subject of study (e.g. Jahnke, Selzer, and Huang). Since the trade in beer is a relatively well researched theme, it forms a good casus for investigating unification attempts. Furthermore, sufficient source material is available to offer an insight in the regulations of the cities under study with regard to beer. 

Within the workshop, the following aspects will be addressed:

1.       Which attempts to regulate and unify beer production took place on the local, regional and ‘Hanseatic’ level?

2.       Were the attempts spurred on locally and/or regionally, and in a later stadium discussed beyond the regional level during Hanseatic meetings? Or rather the opposite, and were local attempts of unification stimulated by Hanseatic meetings?

3.       How were standardization attempts with regard to products influenced by markets?

4.       Were attempts of standardization always aiming at minimizing the transaction costs in local and long-distance trade, or were other factors, such as competition between cities, of overriding importance? How can different motivations be distinguished from each other?


[1] Selzer (2010) pp.93 ff.