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Managing the 'Mark': organisation and appropriation of common pool resources in an early modern 'Markgenossenschaft' 


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Main topic



German historiography characterises the history of the commons as one of decay. Legal historians of the nineteenth century, whose research findings were influential until 1945, heralded the commons of the Middle Ages as the ideal of their ‘Markgenossenschaftstheorien’. Consequently, the constitution of the commons in early modern times was interpreted as a history of its alleged degeneration. Shifting the perspective, social historians in the 1990s primarily focused on the partition and privatisation of common land in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. From a structural point of view, the dissolution of the commons that the contemporary Enlightened discourse already classified as decaying, was an essential requirement for the implementation of agrarian individualism.


This research project will establish a narrative that is averse to the long held scenarios of decay, by writing a micro-history of an early modern ‘Markgenossenschaft’ from its beginnings in the sixteenth century to its dissolution in the nineteenth century, taking into account archival records such as normative regulations (Holzungsordnungen), court-records (Höltingsprotokolle), registers of fines (Brüchtenregister) and partition files (Teilungsakten).


The subject of this exploratory case study is the Essener Mark, located near to Osnabrück. The Essener Mark is a huge common cooperative with some hundred entitled users that is located at the border between the Osnabrücker uplands and the river Hunte that traverses the lowlands of Lower Saxony. Due to its location on a very diversified territory (woodland, pasture, waste), it was used for agriculture and forestry in many ways. Moreover, the common was located in a region where collective land tenure arrangements can be traced back until the eleventh century, which held a particular relevance for the peasant population up to the nineteenth century.


The study aims to examine the economic, social, and institutional micro-dynamics of the organisation and appropriation of common pool resources in the ‘Markgenossenschaft’ from a long-term perspective. The research will focus on local conflicts within the rural society about resources and their unequal user-rights, which were brought up between commoners of differing status as well as of the same standing.


The theoretical basis of this study follows the neo-institutional concepts of Elinor Ostrom on the organisation of common pool resources and profits from analytical models used in the political sciences, which were recently operationalized to study the historical commons in countries whose economies are marked by specific manifestations of limited good (i.e. Belgium, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain).





University of Duisburg-Essen: Jonas Hübner, MA

Funding body



University of Duisburg-Essen: Prof. dr. Stefan Brakensiek

Contact details

Jonas Hübner

Geschichte der Frühen Neuzeit

Historisches Institut

Fakultät für Geisteswissenschaften

Universität Duisburg-Essen

Universitätsstraße 2

45141 Essen

Links to project

> Webpage of the Historisches Institut of the University of Duisburg-Essen