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The Diversity of Service in Pre-Modern Europe

September 20, 2019 - September 22, 2019

An international conference at the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto

Elisheva Baumgarten, Isabelle Cochelin, and Konrad Eisenbichler with Lochin Brouillard and Emma Gabe

Scientific Advisory Board
Elisheva Carlebach, Antoinette Fauve-Chamoux and Diane Wolfthal

Service in premodern Europe was a ubiquitous phenomenon in daily life but also constituted a key concept for defining relationships between individuals. Servants were men or women, high or low on the social scale, poor or wealthy, children or elderly, of different faiths (Christian, Jewish or Muslim), and with few or great expectations for their future. For some, service was a lifetime occupation but for many a finite period in their life cycle. Even kings considered themselves to be servants in relation to God. In contrast with the diversity and pervasiveness of service in the past, few today would consider themselves the servant of another.

The project for this conference is therefore timely and innovative on many fronts. Our approach seeks to conceive the history of service in the longue durée, starting around 1000, when primary sources become more abundant (thanks to the increasing reliance on written texts) and ending before the turning point of the late seventeenth century, when the conception of service changed significantly. Our research will thus cover the medieval period for which no overall study on service exists so far. We will use an interdisciplinary methodology and bring together scholars from different fields (History, Literature and Art History, but also Religious Studies, Anthropology, and History of Architecture) and with complementary areas of geographical and chronological focus. In addition, we will take into account religion, which has been very little considered so far in the studies concerning service, even though any discourse on service in these centuries was steeped in religious imagery. For this reason, we will consider the Christian, Jewish and (when and where relevant also) Muslim communities of medieval and early modern Europe side by side. Finally, our approach will be both empirical and theoretical: we intend to examine service as a socio-historical reality and as a concept to define human relationships and work relations, a joint approach which has never been adopted in previous scholarship.


September 20, 2019
September 22, 2019
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Centre for Medieval Studies
125 Queen's Park, 3rd floor
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C7 Canada
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