Historical Citizenship

Before the emergence of national citizenship in the wake of the French Revolution (1789), European countries had only local—more specifically urban—forms of formal citizenship rights. Citizenship in this period has been hailed by some as one of Europe’s advantages. Others are more critical, depicting citizenship as a form of exclusion against females, religious minorities and migrants, and a constraint on the free movement of citizens. Local citizenship was abolished in most European countries around 1800 in favour of national citizenship. As a result, during much of the 19th century European states experimented with various elements of national citizenship.

This project examines two stages of the history of citizenship: 

  • the working of local citizenship arrangements before 1789
  • the formation of national citizenship in the 19th century. It will allow us to compare various citizenship regimes, and connect their characteristics to economic performance and over-all well-being.

The project is funded by the European Union and aims to provide a long-term perspective on the issues facing modern policy-makers in relation with citizenship in the multi-national environment of the EU. It forms part of a large project, bEUCitizen, exploring obstacles to EU Citizenship today.

In the modern EU, economic rights often precede full citizenship; before 1789 it was the other way around. In pre-modern towns these professions were usually subject to guild rules, whilst membership of a guild required formal citizen status. By implication, membership of guilds gives us an important clue about citizenship in the past, both from the perspective of rules and regulations, and from the perspective of citizenship-as-practice. Additionally, studying guild membership and apprentices will give us a better idea of the economic impact of citizenship, including skills acquisition, but also of its political and social dimensions.

Political influence, social welfare, regulation of membership, exclusion of religious groups, as well as agency and recognition of outsiders all feature prominently in the history of the guilds, which therefore offer us an opportunity to observe at close quarters the multi-dimensional characteristics of pre-modern citizenship.

The project will contribute an important new dimension to an ongoing debate about the contribution of civic institutions to economic growth and development. By zooming in on one specific but crucial point of contact between institutions and the economy, it is expected to make a contribution to solving this conundrum. Due to its coverage of various dimensions the project will be able to identify persistent differences and their causes.



Funded by the European Union