This research stay supports the completion of a PhD dissertation entitled "Private Need, Public Order: Conflicts over Late Medieval Urban Sanitation" being written for the Department of History, University of Virginia. The work examines the development of sanitation infrastructure, specifically water supply, waste disposal, and street cleaning, in late medieval urban northern Europe through the use of city records from c. 1350 to 1550 for towns in Scandinavia and the British Isles. The dissertation addres ses two related questions: How did the physical needs of sanitation shape medieval city governmental functions and structures? How did the policies of city governments affect the development of medieval systems of sanitation?
The dissertation argues that medieval town governmental structure and legislation, which have typically been seen by modern schoalrs as products of elite politics, were shaped largely in response to the material reality of urban living. Sanitation issues moved from being a private m atter to a public concern in northern European cities in the late medieval period. Authorities had to mediate conflicts over sanitation and modify the governmental structures and duties to accommodate physical requirements of city life. Conflicts between individuals and the community occurred in medieval towns when individuals attempted to fill their basic environmental needs in ways contrary to the designed use of sanitation technology. These conflicts could not be resolved by either technological fixes or legal controls alone. Rather medieval town governments mediated among various actors by employing technology, legislation, and new governmental structures to alter citizen behavior and claim authority over citizen actions.