Originally surrounded by walls, the city expressed antagonism with the countryside. In contrast, the commons have been seen as a “space” without enclosures and in open relation with land, forest, mountain, rivers, and seas. The city fulfilled several functions: of fortification and the military, of law and sovereignty, and of trade and commerce. As a port, as a fort, or as the court the city has embodied the principle of enclosure.
The ancient antagonism between town and country, well studied by Raymond Williams, is parallel to the more recent antagonism between colony and metropolis, a consequence of European imperialism. While the city has attracted the young and energetic of the countryside, the metropolis has been the destination of the poor from the colonized parts of the world, the wretched of the earth in Frantz Fanon’s words. The city brings together people from different colonies in Asia, America, and Africa, where forms of commoning have persisted into the 21st century. Migrations from overseas provide an important vector of knowledge of the commons.
In this lecture, Linebaugh pays special attention to the transformation of African, Irish, and American experiences in London in the era of revolution, and in particular, to the story of the Republican Colonel Edward Despard and his African wife, Catherine Despard.
Peter Linebaugh, specialist in the history of the commons and Atlantic revolutions and professor of history at the University of Toledo. He has taught at Harvard University, Attica Correctional Facility, New York University and the Federal Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois. He is the author of The London Hanged (Verso, 2006) and The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All (University of California Press, 2009) and co-author with Marcus Rediker of The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (Verso, 2001).