The benefits of the “workshop volume” and the launching of a CFP – Talking in private: tracing everyday conversations in early modern Europe

Academia is often a solitary pursuit. In that light, the vision of collaborative research implemented at the Centre for Privacy Studies is rather unusual. Within the case teams of the research program, each postdoc and doctoral student is working close together with previously unknown colleagues, something that is certainly both challenging and stimulating.

But the centre’s collaborative endeavours stretch beyond the eleven case teams. For example, since May 2019, a group of Danish and Swedish scholars, covering affiliations to no less than ten different institutions, have been working on a joint volume with the preliminary title Private/Public in Eighteenth-Century Scandinavia. Since yesterday, the entire manuscript is in the hands of our brilliant editors (and co-authors in the volume) Helle Vogt and Sari Nauman. It will soon be submitted to the publisher.

The upcoming volume is a product of a series of workshops. Instead of preparing oral presentations, all participants have taken time to read each other’s work-in-progress beforehand in order to contribute to the discussion of each text. The sessions have, consequently, been marked by joint discussions rather than monologues.

Admittedly, this is not a unique concept. I had my first peak on this academic practice as a doctoral student at Lund University working in professor Svante Norrhem’s research project on French subsidies to Sweden during the early modern era. Together with his colleague Erik Thomson (University of Manitoba), Svante invited a group of scholars specialized in early modern diplomacy, of which they had not met most of them before. The result was a really insightful volume on the role played by subsidies in early modern Europe. As an observer, I was fascinated by this way of conducting research and producing publications.

To my mind, this sort of publication project – let us call it the “workshop volume” – is an underestimated way of making collaborative research in a smaller scale. The workshop functions, ideally but also in my experience, as a kind of writing group, marked by an explorative approach and a significant amount of peer learning. Beside the end product – the volume – it can really offer a boost to individual scholars as we tend to get different comments from people coming in from new environments.

The process of making a workshop volume differs from doing something together with people from your own department or graduate school, with whom you tend to share a lot of common references and underlying assumptions. It also differs from the typical “conference volume”. Indeed, there are many valuable conference volumes out there, but it is something different than collecting thoughtful presentations to let not finalised drafts be formed by discussion along the way of a production process. To be fair, strong departments, stimulating conferences and (most of all!) scholarly journals are fundamental to the academic infrastructure. But as I see it, the workshop volume offers a way of working towards a publication that has its own advantages.

In the case of our soon submitted volume, it all started with a rather general Call for Papers asking for perspectives on privacy, the private and the public, with the geographical area of Scandinavia and the early modern period as the only delimitations. I was myself one of the persons responding to the call. During our sessions, the scope for our volume was narrowed down step by step:

– We gradually shifted from discussing “privacy”, via “private and public”, to a more specific interest for “the private in the public”. That means, roughly, examples of public exposure of the private, or private spaces embedded in an understanding of the public (in various ways, as the volume will demonstrate…)

– Most of us brought texts dealing with the eighteenth century to the table, which it why it made sense to us as a group to arrange the chronological scope accordingly. However, this framework did not exclude contributions related to the seventeenth and the nineteenth century; on the contrary, the contributions dealing with a longer timespan could offer us valuable reference points at both ends that helped us to reflect on changes over time.

– We concluded that most texts related to either spaces or communication, or both. This helped us to stipulate sub-sections of the book, to narrow the thematical scope, and to identify relevant research fields and cross-references.

Of course, we also tried out other ideas that didn’t last throughout the process. The point I want to make is that the choices we made were formed organically by the dynamics of the workshops.


CFP on private conversations

My own text in the upcoming volume is exploring practices of talking in private in the early modern society, more precisely in the case of state investigations over Swedish Pietism in the 1720s. Much scholarship has depicted the early modern Scandinavian societies as public scenes, on which all matters were public. In my article, this perspective is turned upside down, and the focus is instead set on what was described as private conversations. The article demonstrates the possibility to explore how people involved in the investigations had practices of talking in private – and arguments for keeping it private.

When arriving to the centre, my new colleague Natacha Klein Käfer was working on an article with partly shared connotations. Her article (for another volume) raises the question how we can understand bonds of confidentiality between healers and patients in early modern societies by reading court records.

With both these articles recently submitted, we are together launching a CFP for delving deeper into these matters in the form of a “workshop volume” preliminary entitled Talking in private: tracing everyday conversations in Early Modern Europe. In accordance with the workshop concept explained above, we are looking forward to a collaborative and open process towards the unexpected!

The workshop will take place 7–8 October 2021, hopefully in person (depending on the corona situation), at the Centre for Privacy Studies, University of Copenhagen.

The deadline for the CFP is 11 April 2021, so there is some time ahead to go through sources, and join our new quest for this kind of private matters in early modern times.