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Functional changes in fortified places: Strategy and defensive architecture in the Medieval and Early Modern Era

Cite this dataset

Kirk, Scott; Sternberg, Evan (2021). Functional changes in fortified places: Strategy and defensive architecture in the Medieval and Early Modern Era [Dataset]. Dryad.


Data for Scott Kirk's Doctoral Dissertation.

Dissertation Abstract:

Defined as fortified elite Houses, castles are a cross-cultural phenomenon, best understood by pairing Niche Construction Theory (NCT) with the Lévi-Straussian concept of the House. NCT can be thought of as a theory of the built environment, thus the material configuration of castles and their placement on the landscape reflect elite socio-cultural requirements. My dissertation asks: How do changes in castle morphology and landscape placement reflect broad shifts in function diachronically and cross-culturally?

Wherever elites are militarized, castles typically appear. Similarities in castle design and function are best understood through anthropological frameworks and comparative, interdisciplinary approaches. Using a sample of castles from medieval European, western colonial, and nonwestern societies, I hypothesize that: (1) castle building is a common, cross-cultural behavior, (2) geography and the environment constrain castle location, allowing for a landscape-based typology of castles, and (3) changes in castle placement and design reflect large-scale social competition between elites.

These hypotheses contradict much of the current regionally-focused work in castle studies, which are often grounded in national ideologies. Early 20th century studies were more aligned with my hypotheses. Revisiting these earlier investigations, my dissertation uses anthropological theories within an interdisciplinary approach. It combines architectural, statistical, and geospatial analyses to quantitatively test how similar castle placement and co-occurring architectural features are cross-culturally, and how these attributes change over time in relation to elite competition.

This research has general and theoretical significance for assessing mechanisms of elite status reinforcement, behavior, and decision-making across space and time. Building a typology that characterizes castles as resource control points, examining how similar architectural features appear in disparate cultures, and exploring social change driven by elite competition, my dissertation takes aim at nationalistic policies by illustrating cross-cultural similarities that are applicable to the modern world in terms of increasing wealth disparities and socioeconomic inequality.


This dataset was collected through a representative literature review for each structure followed by ground truthing for 90% of the structures.  

Data was used in cluster analyses and to create indices for two chapters in Scott Kirk's dissertation.  

Usage notes

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