village

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

village

village, small rural population unit, held together by common economic and political ties. Based on agricultural production, a village is smaller than a town and has been the normal unit of community living in most areas of the world throughout history.

The Village Community

The village community consists of a group of people, possibly linked by blood, using land, sometimes held communally, for cultivation and pasturage. This community, noted in the history of many cultures, is thought to have originated in the area of present-day Iraq and Iran, and its establishment seems to have paralleled the transformation of tribal life from nomadic hunting to stable agriculture. Although innumerable variations in patterns of village life have existed, the typical village was small, consisting of perhaps 5 to 30 families. Homes were situated together for sociability and defense, and land surrounding the living quarters was farmed. This farmland might extend for as much as a mile (1.6 km) and was generally parceled out in varying proportions to each family. There were also woods and meadows used for pasturage, firewood, and hunting, which were often held in common.

Evolution

In ancient times the village was largely self-sufficient, but with the development of the town and city the village became more integrated economically and politically with the larger society. At one time there was a great debate amongst anthropologists as to whether villages arose out of the independent settlement of a kindred group that held property communally or whether they were established by a hierarchal authority such as the Roman Empire, in which land was controlled privately or by the state. Today it is generally agreed that there may have been separate and different origins of the village, each area developing independently according to its specific history. For this reason village life once found in Wales, Mexico (see ejido), the Balkans, Russia (see mir), China, Africa, Sweden, India, and Java may all differ considerably from each other.

In England property was at one time held largely in common and each village member was comparatively equal to all others. Sometime between the 5th and 10th cent., however, something resembling a feudal pattern emerged, with a lord ruling each village. After the Norman conquest (1066) this feudal hold was solidified, and village life changed considerably, especially in its property relations (see feudalism; manorial system). In the United States the village life found today bears little resemblance to the small villages of past eras. Moreover, most farming in the United States takes place on land privately owned and may thus differ from the aforementioned village agricultural pattern. Nonetheless, the village is still the predominant form of community organization in many parts of the world, including much of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Bibliography

See H. Maine, Village-Communities in the East and West (1871); E. Nasse, On the Agricultural Community of the Middle Ages (tr. 1871); P. H. Ditchfield, Old Village Life (1920); G. G. Coulton, The Medieval Village (1925, repr. 1960); J. M. Halpern, The Changing Village Community (1967); D. Fraser, Village Planning in the Primitive World (1968); G. Dalton, ed., Economic Development and Social Change: The Modernization of Village Communities (1971); R. Critchfield, Villages (1983); F. West, The Village (1985).

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