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Call for Papers: Standardization in the Middle Ages

Conference May 25-27, 2022,
The Norwegian Institute in Rome

How did people, groups, and institutions in the European Middle Ages attempt to envision, formulate, and enforce ideals of uniformity, predictability, sameness, order, harmony, and concordia – in short, standardization? Writing and literacy, trade and travel, weights and coins, arts and crafts, liturgy and canon law, monastic rules and scholastic theology, and ethics and justice traversed regional boundaries in the Middle Ages, synchronizing time and space, standardizing protocol and procedure, doctrine and authority, artifacts, and commodities. Standardized ideas and practices made up that more or less unified and unifying entity that we call medieval Europe.

In our upcoming conference and ensuing publication, we explore the quest for order and uniformity and the development of standards in the Middle Ages. We endorse a multidisciplinary and contextual approach. We take a complex and broad view of standardization and institution building, considering standardization as an open-ended process that involves negotiation and force, resistance and silencing, embeddedness and flexibility, cognition, and materiality. Above all, we emphasize that standards are not found, but invented.

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Several questions arise from these considerations, some of which are especially pertinent to an inquiry into standardization in premodern societies. One of the most remarkable aspects of medieval Europe is that identity building and community building often took place across what might seem to be unsurmountable distances, with societies that were interdependent on each other and interwoven by a myriad of ties.

  • How were standards obtained and maintained in premodern societies with heterogeneous structures and as far apart as Iceland and Italy, separated by weeks and months of perilous travel?
  • Were they actually obtained and maintained, and if so, at what cost?
  • What happened when new standards were created (and others disappeared) as a result of epidemics, social instability, and/or economic challenges?
  • What can our sources tell us about maintenance, costs, complications, and resistance to standardization?
  • What were the sites and vectors of standardization in the Middle Ages?
  • How did networks and agents operate to achieve standards?
  • How did medieval people speak of standardization?
  • What role did standardization play in representation, substitution, and exchange?
  • What are the limits and the boundaries of standardization in its application as an analytical concept, how wide is its range?
  • How wide should it be?

The conference and publication will attempt to pursue these questions and suggest some answers, offering a deeper understanding of standardization in the Middle Ages and hopefully also shedding more light on the historical, social, and cognitive processes of standardization more generally. To add to the excellent group of contributing senior scholars, we invite papers from junior scholars (below 40) that engage with questions relevant to the theme of Standardization in medieval Europe. We will cherry-pick two or three of the proposals received, and offer travel, accommodation, and participation in our “boutique conference” in Rome for the selected junior scholars. Revised papers will be peer-reviewed and published in an edited volume to appear in 2023.

Please send a short CV (one page) and an up to 500 words abstract to [email protected] before October 15, 2021.

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