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Martial Staub

Samstag, 9. Februar 2013
Aula Magna

Keynote: “My ventures are not in one bottom trusted, nor to one place”. Pre-modern citizens: here, there, and elsewhere

One of the puzzlements of global history is the fact that the process of the European expansion was initiated by the largely decentralised society of the late Middle Ages and early modernity. While we are obsessed by empires’ rise, decline, fall, translation and reinvention, this very narrative with an established pedigree in the West and beyond might not be the most appropriate way of understanding and assessing Europe’s history and its interaction with other parts of the world in the last 600 years or so.
My lecture will aim to demonstrate that citizens were an essential part of this history. By citizens, I do not mean modern citizens, i.e. the heirs of the subjects who fought their rights against absolutist states, empires and dictatorships, but rather our long-gone forebears from the era preceding the rise of modern statehood. The world in which pre-modern citizens lived was a fragmented one, in which not even local cities were undivided bodies. Yet as everybody was to an extent a foreigner in his or her own country, integration in other groups was within limits easier to achieve than in an era of mutually exclusive loyalties. Quite a few citizens or groups of citizens made the best of this situation, whether they had, like the ever-present exiles, been forced into it or pursued some personal or familial advantage such as the international merchants, the scholars, the members of international religious congregations, and many more people. While migrations were far more common than has long been admitted, spatial mobility remained nonetheless an attribute of the few. More than personal transcultural experience, the collective sense that it was possible shaped late medieval and early modern citizenship, be it through the exclusion of the Jews, the heretics, the poor, or other marginalised groups, or the claim of new individual and collective rights, a process which was reflected in the ecclesiological, legal and political discourses of the time.
I shall endeavour to explore these and similar aspects of pre-modern citizenship in a series of case-studies from Northern Italy, Southern Germany and the Low Countries stretching from the 13th to the late 16th century with a view to understanding the real and imagined interactions between local and global levels before the nation-state as well as the mutual relationship between action and representations. This relationship is all the more significant as both exclusion mechanisms and universal rights survived the very context in which they first developed and have had a lasting impact on our own global world.