a charlotte street 15 year anniversary project considering the history and future of artist-driven pioneering in Kansas City and the changing nature of the city's "frontiers"

Historical Context for Beating the Bounds

The following text is much indebted to Wikipedia and sources quoted below.

Beating the Bounds is an ancient European custom, still observed in some English and Welsh parishes.

A group of old and young members of the community would walk the boundaries of the parish, to share and embed the knowledge of where they lay. Because maps were rare, it was usual to make a formal perambulation of the parish boundaries to renew and hand down collective knowledge of the limits of each parish so that such matters as community responsibilities and commoners’ rights would not be disputed.

Checking the boundaries was a way of preventing encroachment by neighbors; sometimes boundary markers would be moved, or lines obscured, and an oral/folk memory of the true extent of the parish was necessary to maintain integrity of borders.

Although modern surveying techniques make the ceremony obsolete, many communities in Europe still carry out a regular beating of the bounds, as a way of strengthening the community and giving it a sense of place.

The idea of a commons is a legacy from the times when land was mainly ‘wild’ and ownerless. Later, property systems created land-owners but tenants kept their customary rights (such as permission to graze their livestock on it, to collect firewood, or to cut turf for fuel) until the beginning of the 1500s when the land started to be enclosed. This process was mostly fully completed by the 1800s.

Historically, rights to the commons have been carefully monitored to preserve them. For example, in response to overgrazing a common would be stinted, that is, a limit would be put on the number of animals each commoner was allowed to graze. These regulations were designed to be responsive to demographic and economic pressure rather than let a commons become degraded.

The Commons today have been traditionally defined as the elements of our environment – forests, atmosphere, rivers, fisheries or grazing land – that are shared, used, and enjoyed by all. But also, by extension, the term “commons” has come to be applied to other resources that a community has rights or access to as understood within a cultural sphere, including cultural production, information, software and sites of heritage. The commons can also include public goods such as public space, public education, health and the infrastructure that allows our society to function.

Peter Barnes describes commons as a set of assets that have two characteristics: they are all gifts, and they are all shared. A shared gift is one we receive as members of a community, as opposed to individually.

“There are a number of important aspects that can be used to describe true commons. The first is that the commons cannot be commodified – if they are, they cease to be commons. The second aspect is that unlike private property, the commons is inclusive rather than exclusive — its nature is to share ownership as widely, rather than as narrowly, as possible. The third aspect is that the assets in commons are meant to be preserved regardless of their return of capital. Just as we receive them as shared gifts, so we have a duty to pass them on to future generations in at least the same condition as we received them. If we can add to their value, so much the better, but at a minimum we must not degrade them, and we certainly have no right to destroy them.” – Wikipedia

Lewis Hyde, in Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership, discusses the vital importance of valuing and protecting not just our private, personal space, but also our “collective being”, public and social selves. He writes:

So we live in a nation that values individuality; we live in a nation of individuals. But a dividual person is somebody who’s imagined to contain within himself or herself the community that he or she lives in.

I have also found Variations on a Theme Park: The New American City and the End of Public Space, edited by Michael Sorkin to be full of interesting and relevant ideas.

One comment on “Historical Context for Beating the Bounds

  1. Pingback: Beating the Bounds Virtual Tour « T H E F R O N T I E R

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: