One of the great interpretive arcs of history as an academic discipline is the opposition between pre-modern and modern societies. Stimulated by post-modern theory, historians have done much in the past decades to expunge the ideological baggage of history as a ‘great march of civilization’, but they continue to imagine the industrial revolution as a great hinge between two distinct epochs. For all its merits, this perspective also creates problems. Burdened by hindsight, medievalists and modernists are often inclined to understand a case-study as either a prefiguration of a nineteenth- or twentieth-century development, or as its foil. Some of the most important publications on the history of medieval European towns published in 2019 were about destroying such assumptions.