Workshop - Performing Gifts: Rituals, Symbolic Communication and Gift- Giving in Medieval and Early Modern Europe


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Gift-giving as one of the fundamental cultural mechanisms of human societies has
been in focus of the researchers of pre-modern Europe for several decades. This field of
research has developed and surpassed Maussean discussions of reciprocal exchange, yet there are numerous aspects of the gift-giving that have remained undiscovered or not sufficiently discussed.

Gift Giving

In his influential book Liquid Assets, Dangerous Gifts Valentin Groebner stated
that the late medieval gifts were media of communication and they, even if made in secret,
strove for audience. Until now too little attention has been drawn to gifts as material objects
in rituals, ceremonies, feasts, and performances and their role in the symbolic communication
with different audiences: those present, those reading and listening to descriptions of gift-
This workshop proposes to discuss medieval and early modern gifts as part of
symbolical communication in rituals of power, as tools of self-representation, their role in
political legitimation and self-fashioning, and relevance of the gift-giving in political and
social communication. What was the role of the gifts as objects in rituals and ceremonies of
power? In which occasions symbolical meaning of gifts was revealed? How were places and
audiences of the gift-giving chosen? How was the gift-giving used for the purposes of
symbolical communication? What can we learn from the gifts as material objects?


Attendees should register until August 20.

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