Performing Gifts: Rituals, Symbolic Communication and Gift-Giving in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

Gustavs Strenga's picture
August 23, 2019 to August 24, 2019
Subject Fields: 
Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Diplomacy and International Relations, Modern European History / Studies, Medieval and Byzantine History / Studies

Performing Gifts: Rituals, Symbolic Communication and Gift-Giving in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

School of Humanities, Tallinn University
Uus-Sadama 5, Tallinn, Estonia
August 23–24, 2019

Gift-giving as one of the fundamental cultural mechanisms of human societies has been in focus of the researchers of pre-modern Europe for several decades. This field of research has developed and surpassed Maussean discussions of reciprocal exchange, yet there are numerous aspects of the gift-giving that have remained undiscovered or not sufficiently discussed. In his influential book Liquid Assets, Dangerous Gifts Valentin Groebner stated that the late medieval gifts were media of communication and they, even if made in secret, strove for audience. Until now too little attention has been drawn to gifts as material objects in rituals, ceremonies, feasts, and performances and their role in the symbolic communication with different audiences: those present, those reading and listening to descriptions of gift-giving. 

This workshop proposes to discuss medieval and early modern gifts as part of symbolical communication in rituals of power, as tools of self-representation, their role in political legitimation and self-fashioning, and relevance of the gift-giving in political and social communication. What was the role of the gifts as objects in rituals and ceremonies of power? In which occasions symbolical meaning of gifts was revealed? How were places and audiences of the gift-giving chosen? How was the gift-giving used for the purposes of symbolical communication? What can we learn from the gifts as material objects?

The workshop is funded by Mobilitas Pluss program and Tallinn University. 

Please register until August 20:



Friday, August 23
10:00–10:15 Introduction
Morning session chaired by Marek Tamm (Tallinn University)
10:15–11:45 Gadi Algazi (Tel Aviv University). Medieval Gifting Practices: Challenges for Historical Research
11:45–12:15 Coffee break
12:15–13:00 Anna Boeles Rowland (University of Leuven). Performing Marriage: Gifts, Material Culture and Consent in Late Medieval London

13:00–14:00 Lunch

Afternoon session chaired by Gadi Algazi (Tel Aviv University)
14:00–14:45 Sari Katajala-Peltomaa (Tampere University). Votive Offerings as Symbolic Communication: Gift Exchange with Saint Nicholas of Tolentino in the 14th and 15th Centuries
14:45–15:30 Philipp Höhn (University of Halle-Wittenberg). Taken Gifts: The Exhibition of Spoils and the Presentation of Maritime Violence in Urban Spaces (Gdánsk, Hamburg, Lübeck)

15:30–16:00 Coffee break

16:00–16:45 Sabine Sommerer (University of Zurich). Medieval Chairs as Gifts
16:45–17:30 Martina Hacke (University of Düsseldorf). The Gifts of Crowned Popes

Saturday, August 24

Morning session chaired by Miri Rubin 
10:00–11:15 Lars Kjaer (New College of the Humanities, London). The Medieval Gift: Between Classical Philosophy and Social Anthropology
11:15–11:30 Coffee break 

11:30–12:15 Gustavs Strenga (Tallinn University). Rituals, Symbolical Communication, Gifts and Conflicts: Entrance of Archbishop Silvester Stodewescher in the Riga Cathedral (1449)
12:15–13:00 Ruth S. Noyes (Novo Nordisk Fonden/National Museum of Denmark). “a favoririmi nel desiderio d’una Reliquia...” (Re)moving Relics and Performing Gift Exchange Between Early Modern Florence and Vilnius

13:00–14:00 Lunch

Afternoon session chaired by Lars Kjaer (New College of the Humanities, London)
14:00–14:45 Irena Kozmanová (Charles University, Prague). Christening gifts for princely offspring. A tool to switch over political discourse between the ruler and the estates
14:45 –15:30 Poul Grinder-Hansen (National Museum of Denmark). Giving to the poor after the Lutheran Reformation in Denmark – ideals and reality

15:30–15:45 Coffee break

15:45 –16:30 Miri Rubin (Queen Mary University of London). Concluding remarks and discussion. 


Contact Info: 

Gustavs Strenga
School of Humanities, Tallinn University 
Narva mnt 25, 10120 Tallinn, Estonia

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