Monthly Archives: April 2016

Conference Report “Dynasty and Dynasticism, 1400-1700”

Not long ago, on March 16th-18th 2016, the ERC funded project at the University of Oxford The Jagiellonians: Dynasty, Memory and Identity in Central Europe hosted a conference on Dynasty and Dynasticism, 1400-1700.
We asked Milinda Banerjee (Presidency University, Kolkata), Hélder Carvalhal (CIDEHUS, University of Évora) and Jonathan Spangler (Manchester Metropolitan University) to send us their impressions from this conference!

Thanks to Milinda, Hélder and Jonathan for their reports on the conference! Just drop us an email if you are also interested in sharing your thoughts about a conference you’ve been to!

Milinda Banerjee: The conference operated at the intersections of three scales of enquiry, bridging histories of Central and Eastern Europe (in the Jagiellonian sphere of control or influence), of late medieval and early modern European monarchies in general, and of global (including extra-European) dynastic polities. The introduction by the project leader Natalia Nowakowska (Oxford) sketched some of the main historiographic shifts in thinking about early modern dynasties and dynasticism over recent years, across disciplinary (historical, anthropological, and sociological) strands. The plenary lectures by Jeroen Duindam (Leiden) and Craig Clunas (Oxford) highlighted the need to think about early modern monarchies in global frames, in terms of parallels, connections, and divergences between different royal-dynastic polities from China to the Islamic world to Europe and Africa, while the plenary lecture of Paula Sutter Fichtner (CUNY/Brooklyn College) focused on the more specific case of the Habsburgs to draw out broader questions about the links between kinship, affective languages, and political power. The plenary lectures as well as the many individual papers all highlighted a certain common theme: that dynasty and dynasticism has not received adequate conceptual and critical recognition in historical scholarship, given that the presence of royal dynasties has often been taken for granted as a historical background, rather than rigorously analysed as a framing category in its own right for both historical actors and modern scholars. A majority of the papers focused on questions of representation and contestation, in the sense of how the royal (or even, non-royal, such as papal or aristocratic) dynasties represented themselves in terms of political thought and categorization, artistic and ceremonial language, and emotive vocabularies, and how their articulations were complicated,  challenged, and destabilized by a plurality of social actors.  Many of the panellists investigated how such self-consciously articulate dynastic languages interacted with other political idioms, including those provided by various religious systems and various sorts of patriotic, republican, or even (proto-) nationalist conceptual systems. Issues of gender were highlighted by several papers which focused on the gendering of power and the scope of female agency. Papers on China, West and Central Asia, and India brought new interesting extra-European perspectives into dialogue with early modern European frames of analysis. The concluding roundtable summarized some of the overarching discussion themes, even as the diversity of voices in the roundtable as well as in the preceding panels made it quite clear that ‘dynasty’ is better seen as a heuristically useful tool of analysis rather than as a monolithic category that can erase other social and spatial diversities.

Hélder Carvalhal: It is hard to encapsulate three very productive days in just a few words. As a result, this brief report is based on the sum of two aspects. First, I will generally approach how participants faced the central theme of the congress. In a parallel way, I will introduce some elements of what and how much I learned in those three days. Thus, the following lines are necessarily biased by my personal experience and interest. Apart from keynote speakers, individual papers will be addressed together regarding their respective themes.

Despite of being organized by an ERC-funded project dedicated to the study of Jagellonians, the congress was rather open and inclusive. With a set of papers approaching various issues concerning the major European dynasties at the period, although not exclusively, Dynasties and Dynasticism did accomplished its main goal –  to reassess what exactly we known as “dynasty”. Conceptual debate became quite clear right since the beginning. Initial interventions of Natalia Nowakowska and Jeroen Duindam underlined the need of exploring dynasties on a more profound way, therefore overcoming static definitions and pre-established common-places. The latter’s recent comparative work about this subject (Dynasties: A Global History of Power: 1300-1800, 2015) also drew attention to certain aspects which eventually came around during parallel sessions. Concretely, I am referring to issues as legitimacy (including competition for the throne and the destiny give to siblings/collaterals) or models of ruling (with particular interest on how rule of women affected dynastical power, among other phenomena dealing with diffusion/concentration of power).

Obviously, with such diversity of themes and geographies, comparative perspectives with other continents (especially Asia and Africa) did appear sporadically. In fact, such exercise has its merits, one of them being the general impression that European monarchies during the studied period are extremely homogenous and arguably much closer to its Asian and African counterparts than we initially thought. Interest discussion raised by Craig Clunas in his keynote approached the upwards of studying Asian dynasties, as well as the existence of several “Asias” in opposition to an image of a nearly homogeneous continent. This last debate, promoted by the most recent Sanjay Subrahmanyam´s piece on Asian connected histories (“One Asia, or Many? Reflections from connected history”, Modern Asian Studies 50, 1, 2016, pp. 5-43) brings food for thought regarding not only Asia, but other regions. If one neglects the Eurocentric perspective, perhaps a similar question can be asked: is there one Europe, especially regarding dynasties? There are some distinctive features, particularly in what concerns marriage, succession and primogeniture. Apparently, something happened within numerous European political units and respective dynasties during the late medieval and early modern period. The conference showed that in many cases we do see legitimacy urges on the behalf of the monarch, projecting a constructed image for political purposes. Used mechanisms were usually confined to the creation  and maintenance of the memory (genealogies, often forged; spaces and buildings, etc), the refinement of old-fashioned court rituals (ceremonials and etiquette, but also military/chivalric orders) and to a careful considered matrimonial policy. Several presentations explored these aspects (among others, Brero, Zupka, Coman, González Cuerva). In the same vein, dynastic consciousness as an issue was perhaps the most common aspect during the presentations. It is curious to verify that dynastical image construction could serve for internal political purposes (dynasty as a “family corporation”)  – as Piseri and Van der Steen contributions showed – but also when the time for affirm sovereignty regarding external intentions came round. Another popular concept, connected with the latter and raised numerous times during the sessions, was competition. It was not a particular surprise, since – as the initial keynotes noted – rivalry and antagonism usually happened when dynasties face diverse problems. Hence, many of the presented case studies referred themselves to competition within the same or between two or more dynasties.

In sum, it was a very pleasant, intense and rewarding event. As an early career researcher, I learned and benefitted immensely. Not only because of the content itself – note that Eastern Europe historiography not always receive a lot of attention in this “fringe” of Europe, nor post-graduation programmes contemplate reasonable input about the said region – but especially in what concerns the main debates within the study of dynasties as a space of observation per se.

Jonathan Spangler: It would be difficult to summarise three days of stimulating papers in a few short paragraphs.  And on top of the value of such a breadth of shared comparative research, there is the warmth of collegiality to be commented upon.  For three days, scholars from all over the world congregated in Somerville College, Oxford, brought together by the team of the Jagiellonians research project, led by Natalia Nowakowska, and shared their research but also their passion for history with one another.  I’ve been to many conferences, and this was among the better of them in terms of a spirit of shared endeavour, over coffee breaks, in the dining hall over breakfast, in the pub, and in the final discussion that rounded off the conference.  All I can do here is offer a few highlights, and share some of the insights I took away with me.

In terms of comparative research and experience, this conference did two things, bridging the gap between European and non-European specialisations, but also the divide that often runs between medievalists and early modernists.  This divide has been smoothed over quite a bit recently, for example by groups such as the Royal Studies Network, and it is certainly a trend that should continue.  Amongst French historians in particular, there has often been a curious division between the reigns of Louis XII and François I, as if the Renaissance suddenly burst forth in an instant, banishing the darkness.  It was unfortunate, therefore, that French academics were quite under-represented at this conference.  In contrast, it was a wonder to share so many discussions with eastern European scholars, naturally brought together by the theme of the Jagiellonians, the amazing dynasty that at various points ruled over Poland, Lithuania, Bohemia and Hungary.  We were also privileged to learn more about dynasties outside Europe: Turks, Mongols, Manchus.

In general, I can summarise the larger points taken away by delegates through points raised by two of the keynote speakers and by the leaders of the concluding roundtable discussion.  Jeroen Duindam (Leiden), as usual, delivered a broad-ranging talk full of stimulating illustrations drawn from his recent book (Dynasties: A Global History of Power, 1300-1800), that demonstrated that dynasties across the early modern world shared many characteristics. Duindam offered three concise thinking points about dynasticism: that it can be divided roughly into two systems (concentrated or diffuse); that legitimacy was a concern shared by all ruling families; and that Europe did seem to have an exceptionalism (a ‘Sonderweg’) that made its dynasties distinct (mainly monogamy and primogeniture). Craig Clunas (Oxford) then helped draw in several points from the conference for further discussion, notably what exactly was meant by a dynasty in historical terms, and whether the study of dynasties is useful to the historian. As a Chinese specialist, his talk was particularly convincing, coming from a historical field in which ‘dynasty’ defines almost everything about a period, rightly or wrongly. His conclusion was that we can use such a term meaningfully, but that it must also be seen as fluid and changeable, and that ‘trans-dynasticism’ is equally valid.  Senior historians who participated in the round-table, notably John Morrill (Cambridge) and Martyn Rady (University College London), stressed the nature of cultural transfer across dynasties (as alluded to by Clunas in his keynote address); the role of dynasties in state building (and the incorporation of other elites into dynastic identity beyond those connected by blood); the shared culture of dynasticism that extended far beyond the ruling families into villages and households of ordinary people; and the reception of this culture by those same ordinary people.


Interview with Layout Editors, Diana Pelaz Flores and Danna Messer

Dr. Diana Pelaz Flores has received her PhD from the University of Valladolid, Spain. Her research focused on the study of Castilian Queenship during the 15th century, especially in the reign of Juan II of Castile (1406-1454) and his two wives, Queens María of Aragón (1420-1445) and Isabel of Portugal (1447-1496). Currently, she is working in different research projects related to the symbolic importance of water in the Middle Ages and the formulation of the meaning of queenship in the Iberian Kingdoms.

Dr. Danna Messer has received her PhD from Bangor University in Northern Wales (and for everyone who has ever been to Bangor, that means she is also very adept at climbing steep hills). Her research focuses on women living in native Wales before the English conquest of 1282. While her PhD primarily concentrated on married women from the aristocratic and noble classes, she is now taking a closer look at ‘queens‘ and royal women from the native princely dynasties in historical and literary sources and records of practice.

Diana and Danna are the layout editors of the Royal Studies Journal – we got together with them to ask them, what it is they do and also a bit about their research.

Cathleen: Thank you both for doing this interview. First of all, could you tell us a bit more what a layout editor does?

Danna & Diana:  Well, essentially, to coin a friend’s term: the clue is in the title!  After an article or review has successfully gone through the peer-review process and is submitted for publication, it goes through the stages of being proofread and copy-edited.  Eventually, the final version is sent to our team to template it and lay it out according to our guidelines.  As editors, we work closely with the layout assistants; assigning articles and reviews to be laid out so the work is spread out as equally as possible and, ideally, with enough leeway time so there’s not a lot of stress involved at the end of production.  It’s not really just a matter of simply delegating work.  It’s about working with each other, including laying out articles ourselves, and helping with any glitches that arise.  There’s also the matter of looking after the online system that we have set up for the journal and making sure all the right boxes are ticked (figuratively and literally).  This side is important because if we don’t go through the proper technical channels, the journal physically can’t be published.

Levin article word file

Levin article layout version

Carole Levin‘s article on the afterlife of Elizabeth I in Stuart England, before and after Diana, Danna and their team worked on it

Cathleen: So, you are pretty much the last step to make sure everything is as it should be. How does your work fit in with all the other steps, e.g. section editors, copy editors and so on? Is there a lot of communication going on between these different roles?

Danna & Diana:  Really, with the journal overall there seems to be a lot of open communication across the board.  Certainly, as layout editors we work pretty closely with the copy editor, since her job also entails issues concerning agreed house formatting and style.

Cathleen: There is a quite a team of layout editors at the journal. Could you tell us a bit more about how you organise the work between you? Are there multiple rounds of checking? Also, what kind of software to you use? And what are the challenges there?

Danna & Diana: The main task is overseeing the OJS side of things so we can make sure the publication is pushed through on time and that the articles and reviews that appear in the publication are the final versions that are meant to be there.

We have an absolutely fantastic team to be working with.  Everyone is so enthusiastic about getting their hands dirty, so to speak, in order to help this journal be a continued success.  And, communication within the layout team is impressive given we are all busy with other life demands and spread so far and wide – if an email is sent querying something or if someone flags up an issue that needs to be dealt with it’s usually within a matter of a couple of hours at the most that any of us have to wait for a response.  It’s brilliant.  And reassuring.

We do multiple rounds of checking, as far as we can.  Generally, after an article or review has been laid out, it is sent back to the copyediting team and authors for a last run through to make sure everyone is happy we’re meeting our standards.  Previously, the journal has used Publisher for layout, but we are currently in the process of rejigging things with the intent to use Word from here-on-out.  There’s a general consensus that this switch will hopefully make the last-minute chaos that ensues in publishing when trying to meet deadlines a lot less chaotic!

Cathleen: Good luck with that! Besides layout editing for the journal, you have of course also your own research. Could you tell us a bit more about this?

Danna: My main research interest are the wives of the Welsh rulers before Wales was conquered by the English in 1282.  In particular, I focus on the ideals and expectations concerning women and gender found in the native and normative Welsh sources roughly composed during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and examine these against what records of practice actually tell us about the types of agency royal and noble women held.  Welsh queenship and kingship are very complicated topics because the whole system of rulership was pretty ill-defined and even use of the terms queenship and kingship are debatable.  My research on Welsh queens, nevertheless, is proving exciting because after some painstaking delving into the sources, it‘s pretty clear that women enjoyed real levels of political and economic agency that effected the administration/management of family lordships, as well as native Welsh polity and international relations.  It’s a topic that’s been ignored for too long and I just find it fascinating.

Diana: My research focuses on the role of the queens of Castile during the Late Middle Ages, especially in their role as the wives of kings. My main objective in my PhD was to understand the role of the queen consort in the different spheres of participation in the kingdom. By this reason, I have observed the political relevance of the wives of King Juan II of Castile (1406-1454), because these two women established a singular conflict against the king’s favourite, the Constable of Castile, Álvaro de Luna. The research on these Castilian queens, in relation to examples given by other queens of the Trastamara dynasty, has inspired other angles concerning Castilian queenship, such as the role of the queen as mother, the configuration of the queen’s itinerary, or the formation and composition of the queen’s household, among other aspects. The study of these women has been absolutely fascinating for me, because it helps me appreciate the importance of the queen in her context and the true role that developed with the evolution of the Crown of Castile. It is really suggestive and, in my opinion, it is a research field as interesting as necessary to understand the functions of the queen in the medieval period.

Cathleen: Alright, both of you share this fascination of medieval Queens – be it Welsh or Castilian. And, come to think of it, Castilian medieval queens and noble women in general are also research interests of the chief copy-editor of the Royal Studies Journal, Jitske Jasperse. Can you tell us a bit more about this fascination of medieval queens? For example, what exactly were their roles in politics? Did they mostly have influence via cultural patronage, or how did this work in a mostly male dominated world?

Danna:    For me, the fascination with queenship stems from the traditional lack of understanding (and, really, historic disinterest) concerning women’s lives in general.  There is so much research now showing that women were hardly on the periphery of society as most of history has led us to believe.  I think it’s crucial that we understand the varying levels of agency and downright power that women actually wielded from every aspect of society in order to have a more balanced view of the past.  I think this, in turn, has a direct impact on changing gender and sex relations and attitudes in our own cultures.

As for royal women in medieval Wales, there is a lot of evidence that strongly suggests that the office of the ‘queen’ was one that allowed the ruler’s wife significant political agency, on both the national and international stages.  In fact, there is very little evidence between 1100-1282 of the queen’s influence in terms of cultural patronage or the import of the pigeon-holed role of the woman as mother.  Though medieval Wales has been portrayed as a male-dominated society, all surviving evidence seems to singularly point towards real social and cultural expectations that women, and especially the wives of Welsh rulers, be both politically and economically active.

Diana: Well, I think the study of the relationship maintained by the women and power from the past let us to know the capacity and the implication of women in history, but also in the history of themselves. This is very important, since it increases our knowledge, especially with respect to the relations between the sexes and their mechanisms of acting. There are different roles developed by the queens, and the case given by the Crown of Castile is very interesting for its complexity and wealth of the scenarios where queens could participate. Concrete, during the government of the Trastamara dynasty (during the 14th/15th centuries), the same to which Isabel the Catholic belongs, we can observe the importance of Juana Manuel de Villena, the first queen of the dynasty, who legitimized her husband for the Castilian throne, thanks to her succession rights; her example is very similar to Catalina of Lancaster, as heir of the succession rights of Pedro I, the king who was murdered by Enrique of Trastamara. This relevance of the queens from the birth of the dynasty motivated a particular evolution and their specific weight in the Castilian Late Middle Ages. This was fruit of a historical relevance of the women of the royal family, because they could govern and inherit the throne according with the traditional law, different, for example, of the case of France where the Salic Law impeded it. In consequence, throughout medieval history of the Crown of Castile we can see strong queens consort, queens mother exerting the government as regents and queens regnant, too.

Cultural patronage is a fundamental field of study for understanding medieval queens, because it is possible to contrast the impact of their religiosity and their taste for literature, but it is not the only sphere where we can find the queens. The Castilian queens participated with her husband in the concession of privileges and they took part of the political evolution of the kingdom. In this sense, the queens were close to their husbands in the war against the Muslims; in occasions they even commanded the troops, as happened in the case of Juana Manuel during the Civil War after the death of king Pedro I. The capacity of the Queen to transmit her identity and her political perception can be observed clearly, such as reveals the example of María of Aragón against the royal favourite, who tried to separate her from the king Juan II. We can appreciate (at least in part, because not all documentation has been conserved) their functions in towns and cities that composed her lands as Queen of Castile, in addition to knowing her relevant influence on her children, thanks to their authority as mother.

Cathleen: Finally, is there anything you like to add – any way an author for the journal can help make your job easier, or anything else?

Danna & Diana:  I think our switch from Publisher to Word will make everyone’s job easier in the long-run, from the submission stage to the final layout.  It’s a good move to make.

Cathleen: Thank you both so much for doing this interview!

Danna & Diana:  Our pleasure!