Discussion paper

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Outland and Outland Use in Preindustrial Europe

The concept of outland (Scandinavian: "Utmark") is comprehensive, many-sided, complex, and ambiguous. The following description does not claim to be a definition, but a way of bringing a number of research fields together. The description is therefore to be seen as a characterization of some of the aspects of the concept of outland, which might be said to form a reasonably comprehensive whole and be applied in a European research perspective from Bronze Age/Iron Age to historical time. Depending on geographical location, we are talking about economies and societies with a number of similar characteristics.

Outland is made up of different natural-geographical conditions, such as forest, moorland, mountainous areas, hilly terrain, coastal areas, lakes, and rivers, on which human activity also has an impact. The outland is contrary to infields. The outland is exploited in an interaction with the farmsteads and the tilled fields surrounding them, and sometimes outland use may take place at very large distances from the home farm. The resources of the outland and the production of the infield farm form an integrated economy, and it is essential to consider outland use an integral part of the strategy of the farm economy. The outland use forms part of the production and consumption of the individual households, but it is also part of larger economic yield systems in that the households form part of re-distributive economies or market-like economies. The products of the outland use are a necessary component of the total production of the farm. They are also a precondition for a long-term sustainable farming strategy. This applies in the perspective of the individual farms as well as in a European perspective.

Outland and outland use are thus to be considered in an ecological as well as in a social-economic setting. However, outland use is also knowledge and experience and thus cultural pattern. People's identity is closely linked with the complexity and variety of possibilities of the outland use and with the cyclic continuity of infield farming. The outland users' type of society is often distinguished by greater flexibility and mobility. It may be a question of particular cultural ways of expression, and the gender pattern may differ from that of areas more dominated by settled and cultivated landscape.

This description and delimitation of the concept places outland use predominantly in the Common Era in Northern Europe. It takes place within the framework of agriculture with more permanent infield farming and thus a clearly defined border between infields and outland. Outland use is closely connected with the development of redistributive chieftain-rule systems and early forms of state formation with market-like economies. Outland use changed thoroughly with the development of modern capitalism during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

From this point of view outland use is a phenomenon which is associated with areas where differing natural-geographical zones are close to one another. This explains the role of outland use in a Nordic framework, but it is also characteristic for areas like the Alps, the Pyrenees, The Atlantic Coast, and the Russian Taiga. It must be emphasized, however, that the variation of natural conditions is to be considered only one of many resources for outland use. Other resources are know-how and social organization.

Outland use is always connected with a central locality, but there may be different levels. The central locality may be the farmstead, an urban area, a national centre, a European centre, etc. The concept and thus the term may therefore be applied in different perspectives, summarized by Hans Andersson in the book "Outland Use in Preindustrial Europe":

  1. Single farms have infields and outland separated by a boundary: This description has a certain general validity at least for Northern Europe. The outland is used for hunting, grazing, shieling, fishing, foresting, iron extraction, etc.
  2. Marginal outland areas surround central farming areas. This is a regional scale in which the outland is characterized by clearings in the forest areas, fishing spots for angling and netting along the coasts, sites for quarrying and other extraction in mountainous areas, etc.
  3. The Arctic, the Northern European Taiga, the Central European mountain ranges, and other areas are the European peripheries to the densely populated and early urbanized Western and Central European plains. The outland use supplies the centres with products.

In the third perspective also completely non-agrarian populations and economies become interesting, like the Sami reindeer nomads and the Greenland walrus hunters. Extending this perspective European colonialism may also be discussed.

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