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CFP: Urban Visual Culture(s): Productions and Perceptions of the Visual in Late Medieval and Early Modern Cities

Submission deadline: March 15, 2016

Conference date(s):
June 22, 2016 - June 23, 2016

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Conference Venue:

Department of History, Durham University
Durham, United Kingdom

Topic areas


Whereas scholars of modern visual culture tend to claim that only in modern times did the visual gain primacy over the textual or oral communication of the pre-modern era, medievalists and early modernists tend to conclude the opposite. In the last two decades, the study of the forms and functions of the visual—of signs, symbols, bodies, art and archi-tecture in their relation to ritual, space, politics and identities—has demonstrated that the visual was not only a reflection of the norms and struc-tures of medieval and early modern society, but a means of discursive communication, which was constitutive of social order.

In recent scholarship there has been a particular interest in the late medieval and early modern city as a site of the visual. Not only did the city serve as a quasi-public stage for the visual display and communication of diverse social groups, but its spaces and institutions, and the groups themselves, were in turn a product of visual communication, and an expression of visual culture. At the same time, visual display in the city was able to become the subject of metadiscourse on the visual itself.
The two key themes of this workshop are: ‘productions’ and ‘perceptions’ of the visual in the late medieval and early modern city.

The strand of ‘productions’ is meant to illustrate the ways in which visual culture was involved in maintaining and negotiating social order in the city. On the one hand, we can think about how social cohesion was established and how the identities of corporate bodies such as the urban commune, guilds, fraternities, political factions, and families, as well as of outsiders such as resident or visiting nobility, territorial lords, clerics, and mi-norities, were constructed. On the other hand, we can consider the social fragmentation of urban society, in which the visual was a means of com-municating and negotiating conflict and discord.

The strand of ‘perceptions’ extends these practices of the visual to explore how contemporaries saw and interpreted visual elements in the city and how these perceptions interacted with the ‘reality’ of lived experience. Attitudes towards visual display could be strongly emotional, ranging from connois-seurship and idolatry to aniconism and iconoclasm.

Torsten Hiltmann (Münster) will give the keynote lecture on visual communication in medieval and early modern times. A roundtable discussion at the end of the workshop encourages all participants to reflect on the state of the art in medieval and early modern urban visual culture, establishing the im-portance and specific functions of the visual in urban society, and proposing research questions and approaches for further enquiry.

It is hoped that the workshop will encourage intel-lectual exchange around common themes and threads in current research on visual culture in the medieval and early modern city.

We welcome papers on all aspects of urban visual culture, inviting contributions from disciplines such as history and the history of art, archaeology and historical geography, ritual and theatre studies, and heraldry and sigillography. Transdisciplinary perspectives are encouraged. Papers will be no more than 20 mins. in length.

Please submit abstracts of 250 words and a brief biography of 100 words to The deadline for applications is 15 March 2016.

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