Rethinking borders and identities in northern France and the southern Low Countries
(c. 1350-c. 1550)
First Rethinking the Medieval Frontier Conference, Leeds University, UK, 10 April 2018.
The area roughly between Antwerp and Paris-Rouen is now divided by political borders: between the nation states France and Belgium, as well as the federal border in Belgium between Flanders and Wallonia. Next to this, a linguistic border between Romance (French, Picard, Walloon) languages and Dutch/Flemish/Nederlands can be detected in this area. National and Federal identities are commonly believed to be strongly linked to one, commonly shared language.
The presentation challenges claims that these modern borders can be justified with history-based arguments, because they would build further on Roman limes and Medieval borders. Firstly, political and territorial borders were continuously shifting throughout the ages and especially in the fifteenth century, often causing uncertainties and endless disputes. Secondly the linguistic situation is strongly marked by bilinguality; stretching from micro examples of code mixing to situations where both languages were commonly used alongside each other, for instance in Saint-Omer (with on top of this a strong presence of English). A final example is the Bruges printer Colard Mansion, who printed texts in both Middle Dutch and French/Picard and who used both languages for the administration of his confraternity, thus confirming the hypothesis that language and identity were much more loosely connected in the fifteenth century than we experience it nowadays.