Towards a New Political History of the Court, c. 1200-1800

Delineating Practices of Power in Gender, Culture, and Sociability

International Conference, 15–16 November 2018

German Historical Institute Paris
Deutsches Historisches Institut Paris
Institut historique allemand Paris

Image: “Louis XIV, à cheval, devant la grotte de Thétys“, c. 1680, anonymous painter. Source : Wikimedia Commons.

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 conceptualize the political dimension of courtly culture and sociability in the context of a new political historiography of the court.


See here for the detailed program.

Participants and Papers

See here for a list of participants and their abstracts.

Call for Papers

See here for the Call for Papers.

Information about the Venue

Deutsches Historisches Institut Paris
Institut historique allemand
German Historical Institute

Hôtel Duret-de-Chevry
8 rue du Parc-Royal
75003 Paris

Politics and Sociability in a Transcultural Context: The Diplomatic Milieu in Istanbul during the Long Eighteenth Century

by Lennart Gard

Workshop report, first published in: H-Soz-Kult, 20th December, 2017, <>.

The workshop took place at the German Historical Institute under the direction of DAVID DO PAÇO (Paris) and PASCAL FIRGES (Paris) and explored the mechanisms of diplomacy in a transcultural context: It focussed on the social life of the diplomatic milieu of Istanbul from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. Thus, it aimed at collecting further evidence for the centrality of this city in the European diplomatic system. Besides that, it highlighted the role of the various “intermediaries”, “brokers”, and “proxies” diplomats had to rely on in their day-to-day work, as well as the multiple interactions between the diplomatic milieu and its social environment. In his introductory remarks, David Do Paço emphasized the relevance of an agency-centered approach to diplomatic history because it takes into account the importance of second-row personnel and the interrelatedness of sociability and political negotiations.

Continue reading “Politics and Sociability in a Transcultural Context: The Diplomatic Milieu in Istanbul during the Long Eighteenth Century”

Final Report on My Visiting Scholarship for Master’s Students, by Monett Reißig

Monett Reißig’s Experience of the Visiting Scholarship for Master’s Students at the German Historical Institute

Monett Reißig

Last year, I was lucky enough to participate in the German Historical Institute’s (GHI) visiting scholarship programme for master’s students. The students receive a monthly allowance of 1.200€ from the institute for this research residency, which was in my case aimed at master’s research projects that focused on the early modern period and related to Dr. Firges’ working group on “Practices of Power and Interpersonal Relationships at Dynastic Centres (1500–1800)”. As my tutor told me about the programme, in summer 2015, I already had received a positive answer for a one-year scholarship programme from the German Bundestag and the French National Assembly and was thus already on site in Paris for the interview. The interview at the GHI gave me the opportunity to discuss the contents and duration of the residency and I could thankfully arrange for it to start right after the end of my internship at the Assemblée Nationale. Continue reading “Final Report on My Visiting Scholarship for Master’s Students, by Monett Reißig”

Final Report on My Visiting Scholarship for Master’s Students, by Stephanie Bode

The German Historical Institute in Paris (GHI) awards visiting scholarships to selected master’s students in order to give them a better insight into central aspects of the academic career. Stephanie Bode has been awarded such a visiting scholarship and following is her report on her stay at the GHI.

Working title of the MA-thesis: “Security Strategies in Court Society. Short- and Long-Term Factional Politics During the Late Reign of Louis XIV”. Stephanie Bode (Marburg University)

Image: Le roy accepte le testament du feu roy catholique Charles II. et déclare.., Bibliothèque nationale de France, RESERVE FOL-QB-201 (75), Public Domain

The Student-in-Residence-Program offers students who consider applying for a PhD the opportunity to deepen and broaden their research experience. Visiting fellows are actively involved in one of the research groups at the GHI while still being allowed to work on their own research projects. The participation in the research group “Practices of Power and Interpersonal Relationships at Dynastic Centres (1500–1800)” meant that I attended team meetings and the reading group, both of which gave me the opportunity to discuss relevant research questions with experienced researchers and I greatly benefited from this exchange. As my own research topic was closely linked to the group’s research interests, I got very helpful advice for my own project. As well as being able to exchange thoughts and ideas, I was allowed to gain an excellent insight into the research process in general. For instance, I gained some insight into how to maximize the potential of a chosen research project, by using different methodologies. Regular meetings with Pascal Firges, head of the research group, gave me new inspiration and encouragement.

Continue reading “Final Report on My Visiting Scholarship for Master’s Students, by Stephanie Bode”

International Practice Workshop: Interpersonal Relations in Court Societies. Theory and Methodology in Practice

This workshop was held on the 22 March 2016 at the German Historical Institute Paris. The workshop seeked to support the production of empirically well-grounded studies, which apply theoretical and methodological approaches in a creative manner. This practice workshop of the GHI’s research group on “Practices of Power and Interpersonal Relationships at Dynastic Centres (1500-1800)” aimed to discuss the application of innovative theories and methodologies to various subjects in the bourgeoning field of historical court studies. During the one-day workshop every participant had to present one of their texts, which were distributed beforehand to all contributors, followed by constructive discussions. For a detailed report of the workshop, please go to:

Must-Read (II): „Residenzenforschung“ – An Overview of the Publication Series of the German Commission for Research into Courtly Residences

by Fritz R. Viertel

In 1990, the Residenzen-Kommission (Commission for research into courtly residences) of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences published their first edited volume of a series, entitled Residenzenforschung, containing a variety of lectures and abstracts that dealt with recent questions and perspectives of the field in Germany (vol. 1, 1990). It was the introduction to a total of twenty-six volumes which were published by the commission over the following twenty-five years. Today, the Residenzenforschung is the most important publication series focusing on the history of residences and courts in the Holy Roman Empire from the Middle Ages up to early modern times. Continue reading “Must-Read (II): „Residenzenforschung“ – An Overview of the Publication Series of the German Commission for Research into Courtly Residences”

Must-Read (I): Important Studies on Early Modern Court Networks and Courtly Life

by Jonas Bechtold

Early modern court historiography has been very productive in the twentieth and twenty-first century. Researchers dealing with the history of princely courts in Europe can have great use of this variety, but when being new in the field researchers and students may be seeking for orientation. With the intention of giving an – albeit limited – overview, this post is going to present some of the most important works on European courts, their networks and functioning: Continue reading “Must-Read (I): Important Studies on Early Modern Court Networks and Courtly Life”

Norbert Elias and His Critics

by Jonas Bechtold

Undoubtedly, the “Court Society” of the sociologist Norbert Elias (1897–1990) has been one of the most influential and discussed books for early modern historiography in the twentieth century. Therefore, his impact on more than fifty years of historical research cannot be underestimated. But in the course of the examination and analysis of Elias’ theories, historians have both adapted and deconstructed it. Especially his idea of a “Royal Mechanism” – playing off the traditional nobility against a raising bourgeoisie and thus controlling both – has found its critics. However, students dealing with the early modern court should certainly study Elias’ theory of the functioning of courtly societies and also be aware of the following studies: Continue reading “Norbert Elias and His Critics”

Research Databases and Internet Platforms

by Jonas Bechtold

The importance of scientific databases and online platforms for historical scholarship is evident. The methodical and geographical diversity of early modern court historiography creates a particular demand for the linking of research projects. In view of this, the present post aims to present a small selection of important online projects, which may be of use to interested students and “newcomers” in this field of historical research. Continue reading “Research Databases and Internet Platforms”

Digital News

Just a short post to alert you to some interesting developments in the digital world.

1) A new opportunity has arisen to become involved with the GHI research group “Practices of Power and Interpersonal Relationships at Dynastic Centres (1500-1800). A grant is available for students intending to write an M.A. thesis relating to our research interests. Support to work as part of the team here in Paris is available for two to six months for the right candidate. Details of the CFA can be found here. The deadline for applications is the 1st October 2015.

2) The medieval history blog is running  a series of articles on the topic of courtly careers under the title “Rise and Fall at European Courts of the Middle Ages”. Do not be put off by the temporal description. Scholars of great relevance for the early modern period, such as Jan Hirschbiegel and Jeroen Duindam, write for the series. The next installment is announced for the 21st June, which is to be written by Christoph Mauntel, and articles by Sebastian Zanke and Duindam are to follow a month later.

Workshop: Power Relations in Court Societies (Part 2)

 img_1112During the first half of the day, the presentations in the workshop centred on gender problematics and global approaches; the speakers of the second part of the workshop then zoomed in closely on interpersonal relationships and analysed specific cases. Alliances of international importance were created and assured through interpersonal relationships between individuals of supreme social status and political power. However, the many other individuals that populated the early modern court often remain invisible. Yet, these papers showed that the consideration of non-noble agents like advisers or some courtly staff members can shed more light on the modes of governance practiced in the courtly network.

Continue reading “Workshop: Power Relations in Court Societies (Part 2)”

Workshop: Power Relations in Court Societies (Part 1)

img_1095Early modern courts were the centres of political power of their time and the locus of the gestation of modern state institutions. Hence, they are a crucial site for historical research. In investigating the courtly power system, however, historiography has often solely focused on the person of the ruler and his (rarely her) immediate political decision-making, thus excluding the social practices rooted in interpersonal relationships, which shaped such individual decisions, as well as entire polities in their own right. With the aim of analysing those less visible relations, the German Historical Institute in Paris (GHIP) hosted a workshop on March 5th and 6th 2015 with the title “Power relations in court societies. Marriage, concubinage, friendship, kinship, and patronage in historical perspective.” The organizers, Pascal Firges and Regine Maritz, invited five doctoral students from three different countries to present their research subjects for comments and discussions. Continue reading “Workshop: Power Relations in Court Societies (Part 1)”

The Ties that Bind

This is the official blog of the research group ‘Practices of Power and Interpersonal Relationships at Dynastic Centres (1500-1800)’, which has its seat in the German Historical Institute in Paris. The group’s objective is the investigation of interpersonal relationships that defined and shaped power structures at court. The shifting constellations of these relations often decided over success or failure in the endeavour to create and rule stable polities. This project seeks to contribute to a better understanding of how social relationships and political practices of power relate to each other and indeed, as is our contention, build on one another in the context of early modern dynastic centres. We thereby seek to overcome public/private dichotomies, which are ill-equipped to describe early modern polities, yet are still entrenched in historiographical approaches to the topic of the court. Continue reading “The Ties that Bind”

Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search