Towards a New Political History of the Court, c. 1200-1800 Delineating Practices of Power in Gender, Culture, and Sociability

Country: France

City: Paris

Abstr. due: 13.05.2018

Dates: 14.11.18 — 16.11.18

Area Of Sciences: History and archeology;

Organizing comittee e-mail:

Organizers: Deutsches Historisches Institut Paris


Dynastic centres, or courts, played a pivotal role in the state building processes out of
which developed our modern political practices and institutions. Yet, for a long time,
the court was regarded primarily as the field of anecdotal ‘petite histoire’ and
consequently neglected by scholarly research. In recent years, however, the
exploration of the dynastic centre made considerable progress, as historians sought
to build on, and go beyond, the venerable sociological models of Norbert Elias. The
exploration of symbolic communication, patronage, micro-politics, gender, the body,
materiality, and transculturality are only some of the innovative approaches that have
been brought to bear on the subject of court history and they have produced
remarkable results. We now understand that the court was a multifaceted space for
innovation in the arts, and sciences, in religious and political thought, as well as a
central hub for the deployment of power relationships. But how do these different
aspects interact? And how do these new approaches modify our current
understanding of, for instance, state-building narratives? Do they suggest new
chronologies, and do we consequently have to rewrite traditional textbook narratives
in order to reflect these new impulses?

Building on such questions, this conference invites its participants to reflect and
discuss on how to conceptualise the political dimension of courtly culture and
sociability in the context of a new political historiography of the court. We envisage
that the discussion could be structured around five thematic axes, which we
understand to be interrelated. The contributions might address some of the following
questions or propose their own approaches to the topic:

1. Family, household, state:
What is the relationship between these entities?
What was the influence of specific families and their networks on practices of
power in dynastic centres?
Under which conditions is it possible to compare micro-politics and patronage at
the early modern court with similar phenomena in present-day organizations?

2. Gender:
In which contexts does gender difference have an influence on practices of
Was the continuous construction and renegotiation of gender at court part of the
practice of power?
What was the role of gender segregated spaces at court?
Can the court be read as a gendered system and what advantages might such
readings have?
What is the political role of staged gendered interactions such as, for instance, the
audience/performer relationship during court festivals and tournaments?

3. Religion, intellectual production, and material culture:
Why were monarchs interested in knowledge production?
Which roles did court clerics play in the practice of power?
When and how could material objects serve rulership?

4. Global historical and transcultural perspectives:
What are the advantages of transcultural approaches to the history of the court?
How can we integrate global approaches with empirical studies of specific
historical settings?
Can we integrate findings from local studies into a transcultural theory of premodern
courtly governance?
How do we conceptualize the challenges of pre-modern rule over extended
territories from a global perspective?

5. Bodies, sexuality, and emotions:
What differentiates royal bodies from ‘regular’ bodies?
What was the role of beauty for rulership?
Were courts specific types of ‘emotional communities’ (in the sense outlined in
Barbary Rosenwein)?
Which emotions did royal (and other) propaganda seek to stir and how does that
change over time?

Departing from their own court-related research, the participants of this conference
are invited to reflect on how the political dimension of their area of expertise could
best be framed in the context of a ‘new political history of the court’ that aims to
overcome a one-sided focalisation on major events, primarily male power holders,
and oversimplified and often anachronistic conceptions of political institutions or a
strict divide between ‘political’ and ‘private’ spheres.
In our conference, we would like to bring together scholars who are working on all
aspects of court history, including historians of diverse periods and regions beyond
early modern Europe. Our aim is to both take stock of the recent developments in
court history, as well as to reflect on its challenges and areas in need of further

Conference Web-Site: