Citizenship Discourses in the Early Middle Ages, 400-1100

The project studies the survival and transformation of citizenship discourse in early medieval Europe. In the period after the disintegration of the Roman Empire and preceding the rise of the cities in the high Middle Ages, citizenship terminology inherited from the classical and biblical past underwent radical semantic changes.

Terms denoting the citizen (civis) and its correlates (civitas; peregrinus, advena) acquired new meanings under the influence of Christianity as the new dominant religion. The project explores these shifts in meaning and their social implications through discourse analysis and a socio-philological approach to Latin sources of law, liturgy, historiography, hagiography and their audiences.
See the project specification (pdf).

  • Project leader: Els Rose
  • Duration: 1 September 2017 - 31 August 2022
  • Funding: NWO VICI
Sound Memories: The Musical Past in Late-Medieval and Early-Modern Europe (SoundMe)

An international consortium of music scholars will investigate the genesis and early development of the concept of ‘music of the past’ in 13th-century Paris, made possible by newly invented technologies of writing musical time.

They will also trace the deployment of such music in the service of various political and religious agendas across Europe in a series of case studies ranging chronologically from the 14th to the 16th century.

They are supported in their efforts by the singers of the Ascoli Ensemble (The Hague) who will be instrumental in disseminating the research to the general public.

  • Project leader: Prof. Karl Kügle
  • Partners: University of Cambridge, University of Heidelberg, Charles University Prague, Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw
  • Duration: 2016 - 2019
  • Funding: HERA
The Art of Reasoning: Techniques of Scientific Argumentation in the Medieval Latin West (400-1400)

This project discusses the practices of argumentation and reasoning from the early Middle Ages up to the period of the medieval universities, by examining annotations, commentaries and diagrams in medieval manuscripts.

  • Project leader: Prof. Mariken Teeuwen
  • Duration: June 2016 - May 2020
  • Funding: NWO Free Competition
Music And Late Medieval European Court Cultures

This project will explore the role of music in late-medieval court cultures of the ‘long fourteenth century’ (1280-1450) on a European scale. The project will focus on music in relation to three central cultural dimensions:

  1. the other arts such as poetry, visual arts, and architecture;
  2. material culture from manuscripts to jewelry and dress;
  3. the performance of social ritual, from the liturgy to informal interactions among courtiers.
  • Project leader: Prof. Karl Kügle
  • Duration: 2016 - 2020
  • Funding: ERC Advanced Grant
Uncovering Joyful Culture: Parodic Literature and Practices in and around the Low Countries (13th-17th centuries)

This project will demonstrate the importance of 'joyful culture' as a major cultural phenomenon in late medieval and early modern society. Joyful culture can be defined as a shared system of sociability for groups and individuals organising playful performances and activities in a ritualised way, in which parody has a central role. Building on the example of the Low Countries, the project will offer a comparative, transnational approach, in order to show how joyful culture helped to bind together various social groups in pre-seventeenth-century society, and how parody was used to reinforce group identity and the sense of belonging to a community, whether at the scale of a regional political entity, a city, or a professional group.

Rather than insisting on the potential of carnivalesque festivities to express tensions and social conflicts, as historians have often claimed, this project will demonstrate that joyful culture also had an important role in securing social stability and cohesion, thanks to the use of an inclusive form of parody, developed in themes such as friendship, the praise of drunkenness, sexuality and obscenity. This project will thereby refresh the broader field of cultural studies, by re-evaluating concepts of the festive.

  • Project leader: Katell Lavéant
  • Duration: November 2015 - October 2020
  • Funding: NWO-VIDI
Architects and bureaucrats: the court and the origins of architectural planning in Northern Europe (1370-1540)

Contrary to the general belief that the origins of ‘modern’ architectural planning go back to Renaissance architectural theory, this project will attempt to demonstrate that the modernisation of planning, which means working out complete building plans prior to construction, was closely related to the administrative reforms of central government in the Late Middle Ages.

The centralisation of administration by the Northern European courts had a major impact on the production of architecture a century before architectural treatises were introduced in the North. New bureaucratic procedures necessitated the recording of decisions and agreements that were previously left implicit. New building administration led to a standardisation of accounts and construction documents, and encouraged the rationalisation of architectural planning. It gave rise to a better documentation of the design and the construction process, which led to the development of modern conventions in recording architecture in drawings and textual documents.

  • Project leader: Merlijn Hurx
  • Duration: January 2014 - December 2017
  • Funding: NWO
Mind over matter. Debates about relics as sacred objects c. 350 - c. 1150

With the cult of relics, Christians explored the use of the material world to reach their god and achieve salvation. Contrary to what is often maintained, however, the role of relics in Christian religious life was not self-evident and unchallenged. From their earliest history on, the boundaries of interaction between the material and the divine provoked debate and dissent. Could the remains of saints embody the divine or were they references to the divine? Should they be venerated or was this idolatry?

This project is the first attempt to systematically map out these discussions and disagreements in the West from Late Antiquity until c. 1150. Instead of focusing solely on normative texts and text editions, as is usually done, this project foregrounds neglected material: inscriptions engraved at cult sites and marginal annotations in manuscripts that expressed new ideas and controversial thoughts. Additionally, the project explores the material objects themselves: relics, the reliquaries in which they were kept and the physical setting of the cult.

  • Project leader: Janneke Raaijmakers
  • Project members: Jelle Visser (PhD), Elisa Pallottini (postdoc)
  • Duration: December 2013 - December 2018
  • Partner institutions: Poitiers, CÉSCM
  • Funding: NWO - VIDI
Late medieval court culture in the northern Low Countries: Visualizing, interpreting, and contextualizing music fragments

The northern Low Countries in the later Middle Ages were ruled by important noble families who contributed considerably to the political, social, and cultural exchanges across Europe at the time. Sharing social and cultural practices as well as family ties with the top echelon of European aristocracy including the rulers of France, England, and the Empire, they maintained a lively cultural scene in Holland.

This project focuses on the second half of the long fourteenth century (c. 1350-1420), taking into consideration secular and sacred music, visual art, as well as poetic and narrative texts. A group of parchment fragments kept at the university libraries of Amsterdam, Leiden, and Utrecht which bears witness to significant musical activity in the northern Low Countries in the later Middle Ages will take central stage. The variety of genres and their multilingualism (French, Middle Dutch, and Latin texts) point to a lively cultural activity at a court in the Dutch-speaking region of Europe, making the court of Holland at The Hague a prime candidate for the provenance of the fragments.

  • Project leader: Karl Kügle
  • Project members: Eliane Fankhauser (PhD candidate)
  • Duration: September 2013 - August 2017
  • Partner institutions: University of Oxford, Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music
  • Funding: NWO-Promoties in de Geesteswetenschappen
Charlemagne’s Backyard? Rural society in the Netherlands in the Carolingian Age. An archaeological perspective

The project studies the Carolingian economy in the Low Countries, from a combined archaeological and historical perspective. Key research themes include peasant agency, manorialization and church property.

  • Project leaders: F.C.W.J. Theuws (UL) and Mayke de Jong (UU)
  • Project members: F.C.W. Goosmann (UU, post-doc), M. Jansen (UL, PhD candidate), W. Kemme (UL, PhD candidate), and J.A. den Braven (UL, PhD candidate)
  • Duration: April 2013 - March 2018
  • Partner institution: Leiden University
  • Funding: NWO, Vrije Competitie
The Changing Face of Medieval Dutch Narrative Literature in the Early Period of Print, 1477-c.1540

The 'Changing Face' project aims to study, for the first time, the corpus of early printed Dutch narratives as a whole, focusing on three domains in particular:

  1. The characteristics of the corpus
  2. Textual transformations
  3. Presentation strategies

As the printing of narratives in the early period of print is a cross-European phenomenon, the researchers relate their observations to the results of scholarship on printed narratives in other European languages in order to find explanations for the diversity and the success of the early printed narratives, such as the popularity of specific literary themes and the appeal of features like lyric passages and woodcuts to the contemporary audience.

  • Project leaders: Bart Besamusca (Utrecht) and Frank Willaert (Antwerp)
  • Project members: Rita Schlusemann (Utrecht) and Elisabeth de Bruijn (Antwerp)
  • Duration: 2013-2017
  • Host institution: University of Antwerp
  • Funding: FWO and NWO
Medieval Literacy Platform

The Medieval Literacy Platform is intended to provide a forum for research on the history of non-verbal, oral and written communication in the Middle Ages. The series Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy, published by Brepols Publishers (Turnhout, Belgium), has developed into a general forum for publications on the history of medieval communication.

See also an overview of previous projects of the UCMS.