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Open Access Regional Planning in a Decentralised State: How Administrative Practices contributed to Consensus-Building in Sixteenth-Century Holland

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This article examines how a regional drainage system in the northern part of Holland in the Late Middle Ages could emerge despite the fact that the weak central state was hardly able to provide the necessary coordination nor prevent free-riding. Institutions, defined as rules and norms, including practices, procedures and techniques, play a key role in the argument. Four traditional administrative practices are identified as essential to the emergence of regional water control: a broad consultation process, by which opponents of new plans were also heard; landowners giving their explicit consent to plans and their costs; the proportional division of the costs; and the use of compensation for damage suffered. These practices respected local autonomy and broadened the level of support among the local stakeholders. The effectiveness of the practices was strengthened when they were used in combination with a technique provided by the Habsburg state: the enqueste or inquiry. This was a technique for gathering reliable, relevant and detailed information at the local and regional level. In this case study, the information on landscape and water use, collected by the 1544 Commission of Inquiry, facilitated cooperation between communities that enjoyed a high degree of self-governance.

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Keywords: The Netherlands; Water management; early modern history; institutional history; state formation

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 August 2017

More about this publication?
  • Environment and History is an interdisciplinary journal which aims to bring scholars in the humanities and biological sciences closer together, with the deliberate intention of constructing long and well-founded perspectives on present day environmental problems.

    Environment and History has a Journal Impact Factor (2017) of 0.538. 5 Year Impact Factor: 0.792.
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