In the early modern period, power seemed to reside in paperwork as much as it did in people. But creating, maintaining, and using archives often complicated the connection between paper and power. The archives of Europe’s nobility, a heterogeneous social group deeply involved in exercising such power in the localities, in intermediary institutions as well as in emerging fiscal-military states, have received scant attention. Media theorists, archivists, and historians have asked how the collecting, ordering, and use of archival records as a cultural technique spread throughout Europe, eventually seeping into all walks of life. Our conference sheds light on the specific roles that heterogeneous nobilities played in transforming European societies from ‘societies with archives’ into ‘archival societies’. What, in short, was the nobility’s contribution to making archiving a ubiquitous practice across Europe?
Early modern historians have tentatively begun to answer these questions in field-defining surveys and articles. Historians of archives, in particular, have researched the entanglements between power and written artefacts. But many of them have focused on larger stately or princely collections. These large collections, aggregated and reshaped by the frequent ‘dynastic mergers’ of early modernity and collated through processes of state formation and mediatization, eventually formed the basis of many of our modern state archives. Other avenues that explore how the many makeshift archivists of early modern Europe learned archival techniques or how they used, propagated, and adapted these techniques to changing circumstances, have received much less scholarly attention. Historians of the nobility, for instance, have underlined the central role that the nobility continued to play well into the 19th century, but without considering noble archiving as a subject in its own right. Another prominent research strand has investigated how noblewomen and -men used cultural artefacts to shape and promote their ‘identity’. While heavily relying on archival records to offer a peculiar ‘lens’ on the past, historians of the nobility usually do not devote much attention to that ‘lens’ itself.
Our conference invites international experts on Europe’s nobility to Münster to take a step back from looking ‘through’ noble archives. Instead, we invite them to Münster’ think ‘about’ them: To discuss the private collections that often form the basis of these findings. How and when did noble archives take shape? Who were the dominant agents affecting their change over time; agents who guaranteed, for instance, their preservation or who fundamentally shaped how they came together. What roles did inheritance and litigation, debt, war and changing religious affiliation, access to office or claims to noble status play in the processes by which noble ‘archivalities’ took shape?
For our discussion, we invite contributions of individual papers of no more than 30 minutes. If you are interested in joining our conversation, please submit an abstract of 300-500 words by mid-November 2019.