The Mediality of the Letter – Diplomatic Correspondence in the Context of Early Modern Letter Culture (16th–17th Century)

Christoph Würflinger's picture
Call for Papers
October 29, 2020 to October 31, 2020
Subject Fields: 
Early Modern History and Period Studies, Communication, Diplomacy and International Relations

Communication requires the use of media. These have characteristic traits, their own medial quality. They do not simply convey facts, because their production is subject to rules and is shaped by various factors. However, since the intensive reception of the theories and methods of media studies in the 1990s, historical research has focused on print media and images as well as mass media phenomena such as propaganda and the public. The mediality of unprinted sources, however, received much less attention. Only letters written after 1700, when their private character has clearly taken shape, have received significant attention. Literature studies mostly deal with the correspondence of authors, and regarding the 17th century, an obvious lack of interest in letters has been highlighted.

For some time, however, letters have received more attention. It was pointed out, for example, that letters were embedded in a theoretical discourse, could serve the self-expression and glorification of the authors, and should not be regarded as an authentic form of expression of an individual, but as staged self-representation. The predominant factor was a sectorally narrowed view of specific types of letters. During the conference, diplomatic correspondence should be classified in the overall context of early modern letter culture. The aim is to connect the intensive research of new diplomatic history with the study of letter culture. Particularly noteworthy are the correspondences of scholars, nobility, theologians and merchants, whose mediality is to be examined within a comparative perspective.

The conference asks for peculiarities and overall characteristics of the different genres of the medium of the letter. One or more of the following topics can be discussed:

• Pre-modern discourse traditions significantly influenced the correspondence. Letter writing guides used formulas and examples to establish standards to which the authors should adhere. How were these guides received in the different genres? Where do the authors deviate from the rules?

• Another factor is the interest of the protagonists, who pursued specific aims and tried to manipulate their correspondents and lead them to certain conclusions. Which strategies – appeals, suggestions, excuses etc. – did the authors use to achieve their aims?

• A letter does not stand alone, but is part of a communication chain. It is influenced by other texts and, in turn, influences other texts. Therefore, the intertextuality of the correspondence should also be analysed. This is related to reception and follow-up communication, because a letter is ideally followed by a response. Central questions are: Who read the letters? What was the process that led to (or did not lead to) the reply?

• Since correspondence is communication between absentees, transport modalities have to be considered: By whom and in what ways were letters transported, how long did the transmission of a letter take, and how did the correspondents deal with losses?

• Closely linked to this is the issue of information security: How was it possible to ensure that only the intended recipient read a letter? Which methods were used for encryption?

• Finally, formal and material aspects should be compared: What are the similarities and differences between the genres in terms of structure, design, length, language and materiality?


This calls for contributions that take up one or more of these topics and thereby focus on at least one specific genre of letter writer (e.g., scholar, noble, theologian, merchant, diplomat etc.). The comparative perspective can either be included in the contributions or elaborated in the discussions.


The conference is part of the FWF-project “The mediality of diplomatic communication – Habsburg envoys in Constantinople in the mid-17th century” ( An interdisciplinary approach is intended. The call is addressed to all researchers, regardless of research discipline. A peer-reviewed publication of the contributions is planned. The presentation languages are German and English.

Please send a proposal of approximately 250 words and a short CV to Christoph Würflinger ( by 08.01.2020.

The organising team will consider the selection until 31.01.2020.

The organiser will cover the costs for overnight stay and travel.



Univ.-Prof. Mag. Dr Arno Strohmeyer ( )

Christoph Würflinger, MA ( )

Lisa Brunner, MA ( )

Contact Info: 

Christoph Würflinger, MA

Department of History

University of Salzburg

Rudolfskai 42

5020 Salzburg