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Medieval and Early Modern Spaces and Places: Courtly Encounters

* Owing to the Coronavirus outbreak, we are unfortunately now unable to hold the Courtly Encounters conference on 23-24 March.*

In 2020 the Open University’s interdisciplinary Spaces and Places conference will address the theme of ‘Courtly Encounters’ by exploring instances of cultural exchange that shaped the day-to-day and extraordinary experiences of court life.

Since Sanjay Subrahmanyam’s seminal book Courtly Encounters, scholars have incorporated the transcultural in courtly studies, but not to the extent it deserves. At a time when scholars across the humanities are embracing a ‘global turn,’ it is an important moment to reassess court studies and consider new approaches that allow us to move beyond Eurocentricism and simple explanations of ‘shared’ tastes.

The early modern court was not a closed entity but was reliant on the movement of people and things, its power being dependent on its relationships with other courts and states. In the early modern period, increased exploration led to fierce competition over the control of trade routes and territories, and inevitably led to diplomatic entanglements that reached from Brazil to Portugal to India. These entanglements brought about hostile relationships, confusion and admiration, giving rise to cross-cultural transfer, exchange and friction as objects, practices and people moved through trade and diplomacy.

This conference will examine courtly encounters during the early modern period to consider the following questions:

  • How were courtly spaces adapted and transformed through the movement of material and immaterial things?
  • Which particular aspects of political, social, and economic infrastructures enabled the exchange of objects, ideas, and people?
  • To what extent do new methodologies and approaches need to be developed to consider courts within a global geopolitical network?

This annual conference is fundamentally interdisciplinary: literary, musical, architectural, artistic and religious spaces will be the subjects of enquiry, not as discrete or separate entities, but ones which overlapped, came into contact with one another, and at times were in conflict.

The conference will take place at the Museum of the Order of Saint John, London, on 23 and 24 March 2020. 

A provisional programme is now availalble. Registration closes March 13 2020.


* Owing to the Coronavirus outbreak, we are unfortunately now unable to hold the Courtly Encounters conference on 23-24 March.*

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