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Posted by: mchu 6 years, 2 months ago


Team members Hilde De Weerdt, Chu Mingkin and Julius Morche contributed to the panel “Historical Knowledge Networks in Global Perspective” at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds (6-9 July 2015). The panel was intended to discuss the relationship between a rise in access to political information and technological advancements in the dissemination of knowledge from the Later Middle Ages onwards, with particular respect to the respective roles of producers and recipients of information in emerging and/or consolidating state structures.


On the basis of a case study of the diaries of Marino Sanuto (1466 – 1536), Georg CHRIST (University of Manchester) reassessed the significance of consular reports to the historiography of consular networks and news exchange on the brink of the early modern period. Focusing on Marino’s reports on the Turkish War of 1499 and Venetian-Portuguese trade in 1503, Christ showed that Sanuto, who wrote his diaries as “raw material” for his chronicle and consular reports, devoted particular attention to the long-term implications of political events and developments. Christ argued that Venetian contemporaries, in contrast, took a greater interest in the “extraordinary”, sensational news provided by mercantile letters rather than the consular reports, which were often perceived as inaccurate fearmongering. Consequently, the use of consular reports and chronicles in historical research may provide a skewed picture of the daily priorities as perceived by contemporary actors.


CHU Mingkin and Julius MORCHE (both Leiden University) contributed a comparative analysis of the printers’ networks of Chen Qi 陳起 (ca.1186- ca.1256) and Robert Estienne (1503-1559), highlighting in particular how distinct trajectories of political fragmentation and consolidation in late Song China and early modern Europe influenced the formulation, enforcement and circumvention of censorship. While Robert Estienne’s differences with the theological faculty of Paris over his critical editions of the bible eventually led him to move his workshop to Geneva, where he became one of the foremost publishers of Protestant theology, Chen Qi suffered forced exile after his publication of the Rivers and Lakes Collection江湖集 (Jianghu ji) had been perceived as slanderous against the Southern Song Chief Councilor Shi Miyuan. The juxtaposition of the two cases inquired into the political dimension of their publishing activity and contextualized the micro-historical narratives within regional histories of institutional development.


Kurt WEISSEN (University of Heidelberg) discussed the practical impact of the Florentine “practica di mercatura”, late medieval collections of mercantile knowledege believed to have served as guidelines to daily mercantile practice. Questioning their relevance to the daily activity of merchants, Weissen suggested that the pratiche had merely been used as handbooks in mercantile education that were compiled by apprentices as a writing exercise. By the beginning of the fifteenth century, the mercantile profession had already become specialised to an extent that generic guidelines could have served no practical purpose and in fact would have been impossible to compile. Instead, mercantile training was provided on the spot, handed down from senior merchants to apprentices in the various branches of Florentine trade companies.


Acting as a moderator and discussant, Hilde DE WEERDT (Leiden University) emphasised the possible relationship between the provision of (political) information, the emergence of new societal spheres, and a rise in (access to) scholarly knowledge. As the contributions showed, the political dimension of knowledge networks could emerge from them being embedded into political structures (as in the case of the Venetian consular networks), the inter-personal links between state officials and knowledge producers (as in the cases of Chen Qi and Robert Estienne), and the production and dissemination of practical knowledge in merchant Republics (as in the case of Florentine merchants). Participants agreed that investigating private-order networks and their inherent systems of information exchange was as a promising way of re-examining the validity of official and/or normative sources and thus to amend/complement existing historiographies of knowledge and knowledge production.


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