Openness and Secrecy in Medieval Germany

Ben Pope's picture
Call for Papers
March 20, 2016
United Kingdom
Subject Fields: 
Cultural History / Studies, Economic History / Studies, German History / Studies, Medieval and Byzantine History / Studies, Political History / Studies

Openness and Secrecy in Medieval Germany

Durham University, Monday 18 and Tuesday 19 April 2016

An international and interdisciplinary conference for researchers at all career stages. Participants may wish to address, but should not consider themselves limited by, the following general questions:

• What roles did openness and secrecy play in medieval German society?

• How did medieval Germans use openness and secrecy?

• How were openness and secrecy produced, signalled and debated in medieval Germany?

• How do openness and secrecy in medieval German society influence our readings of this society today?

When we engage with the past, we encounter openness and secrecy not just as historical facts, but also as part of our relationship with this past: some histories are more or less open to us, others more or less hidden. The intended and unintended disclosures and silences of historical actors fundamentally structure our interaction with them, and furthermore we must accept the half-hidden past as a fait accompli. This can distract from the fact that openness and secrecy were constitutive of relations between historical actors too, and in particular that these actors could extensively manipulate different manifestations of openness and secrecy as they saw fit.

How, therefore, did people in the past use openness and secrecy? How was open and secretive behaviour and how were ideas and representations of openness and secrecy deployed as tactics, strategies, and as cultural materials for the construction of identities, codes of honour and other models of human society and the natural world? How were openness and secrecy produced and signalled in these purposeful contexts? How were these concepts discussed and reflected upon, and how do moral judgements of and other attitudes towards openness and secrecy affect both historical and modern interpretations of their uses?

These questions open further issues concerning our practice as students of the past. How do ‘openness and secrecy’ relate to other, sometimes more thoroughly developed analytical language such as ‘public and private’ and ideas of inclusion and exclusion? How vulnerable are we to being led astray by the (apparent) openness of historical actors which deliberately obscures or distracts from other perspectives? How can we know about secretive activity in the past, and what are the implications of our limited knowledge in this respect?

The conference will address these and further questions in the context of medieval Germany, which is understood as German-speaking Europe between Christian conversion and the Protestant Reformation. What role was played by the politically diverse and multicultural Holy Roman Empire? Were openness and secrecy dimensions in the relationship between Latin and vernacular languages? What was the importance of medieval Catholic Christianity, with its concerns both with hidden mysteries and visible proofs? Did German ethnic and national identities feature openness and secrecy as characteristics of the German people(s)?

Papers of between twenty and thirty minutes are invited from historians, art historians, literary scholars, archaeologists, musicologists and other researchers working in any discipline. Please send your proposed title and an abstract (c.300 words) to by Sunday 20 March (earlier expressions of interest are encouraged).

The conference will be followed on 19 April by a workshop for postgraduate and early career researchers. This will be an opportunity to receive substantial feedback on current work in progress from peers and from established scholars. Workshop presentations can be proposed as either pre-circulated papers or short introductions to an ongoing project as part of a round table discussion.

Keynote Lecture – Professor Gerd Althoff (Münster): ‘Medieval Political Counselling and Decision-making between Secrecy and Openness’

Supported by: Durham University; Durham University Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies; German History Society

Contact Info: 

Ben Pope

Department of History, Durham University, 43 North Bailey, Durham, DH1 3EX, United Kingdom