Mahindra Humanities Center – Representations of revolt and their impact on the development of political cultures

In this year’s lunch talk series at the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University, Malte Griesse was invited to present our research group and important aspects of our work.

His talk on the communication of revolts in early modern Europe gave a general introduction into our current projects and drew attention to both cross-border circulation of knowledge and medical paradigms used to explain the rise and spread of insurrections.

Even though early modern authorities hoped to quell both revolts and their commemoration, the political complexity of Europe allowed for a constant flow of information to and from neighbouring territories. This cross-border circulation of knowledge often counteracted policies of ‘damnatio memoriae’ and fuelled public debates on the causes and outcomes of rebellions.

Hollaendischer  Druck_Gunpowder Plot_1605_Reichsmuseum_Het Buskruitverraad

Het Buskruitverraad / The Gunpowder Plot, 1605, © Het Geheugen van Nederland/Koninklijke Bibliotheek – Nationale bibliotheek van Nederland, 2003

As a consequence, early modern revolts were commemorated not only in oral popular culture, but also in chronicles, legal documentation or even printed reports.

Among the authors writing on revolts were jurists, theologians, military specialists, political scientists and even physicians. They all tried to make sense of past events and develop strategies to prevent uprisings in the future.

And all throughout early modern Europe, medical metaphors were especially popular in a long-term analysis of political change. Humoral pathology prevailed on the continent and localized the causes of rebellion within the body politic; Paracelsian theory, however, became predominant in Britain and attributed revolts to exogenous causes, such as Papist invaders.

On the basis of several textual and visual sources from Italy, Germany, France and England, Malte Griesse exemplified these interrelated strategies in order to show that the main trouble spot of early modern European ‘nation building’ was not the use of violence itself, but the uncontrollable horizontal extension of communicative space.

You are welcome to listen to an audio recording of Malte Griesse’s talk:



Besides, you will also find us on youtube:


Monika Barget

Since September 2013, I have been a member of the international research group "Revolts as Communicative Events" based at the University of Konstanz, Germany. My research interests include early modern constitutional history and political iconography.

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