Privacy & Inventories

Wednesday 15 September the Privacy staff gathered for a Learning Together Seminar on the use of inventories for privacy research.[1] After a short introduction on some of the particularities of historic house inventories, we tried to reconstruct the floorplan of the first floorplan of the sixteenth-century Chatsworth House.

As an architectural historian I get a big kick out of historic architectural floorplans or sections, but in many cases those do not exist, either because they were never made or because they got lost over time. Floorplans only really became widespread and in-fashion starting from the nineteenth century, with the emergence of building applications. While façade drawings might have sufficed in the early years, soon floorplans of all floors were required for the building administration.

Prior to 1800 floorplans were more the exception than the rule. For important buildings or rich commissioners, they still occasionally got made, often in combination with inventories. And sometimes inventories is all we have left. This is partly because of the way archives store documents. In the nineteenth century there was the habit of separating iconographic sources from their accompanying textual sources. Iconography usually ended up in collections like ‘maps and plans’, while the texts were stored thematically. This can make the search for accompanying material quite difficult, but it does mean that the plans are usually kept under better condition, stored separately between layers of acid-free paper.

Inventories are an indispensable source for research into historic houses that might have changed considerably or even completely disappeared over time.[2] Very often inventories were part of a last testimony and will and they are used to literally ‘inventory’ the possessions in order to decide who inherited what. For the Chatsworth case, the inventory made for Bess of Hardwick in 1601 is an excellent example. However, other occasions might also call the need for the drawing up of an inventory. When the Danish royal family moved into the first Christiansborg in 1740, several inventories were made.[3] Another reason might be a thorough restoration, which allows us now to reconstruct a ‘before and after’ situation.

The way in which inventories were made is fairly straightforward. Someone – usually a clerk – went from room to room to record everything that was present in that room. The difficulty here is that the route of the clerk is a little bit of a mystery to our 21-century reading. Staircases were often omitted (since there was no furniture to record there), so the text can jump between floors and rooms. If the clerk took a lunchbreak and started on a complete opposite end of the residence afterwards, that often leaves no trace in the written account. Figuring out what route the clerk took can thus be quite a challenge.

So what is being recorded in an inventory? Basically, all the things that could be moved or sold. We would expect furniture to be in there, and it is. But there is a lot more. The concept of ‘movable heritage’ went a little further in early modern times than it does today. Wall paneling, for example, is often part of the inventories; mantelpieces could be taken apart and rebuilt. Some of the most interesting inventories even give the amount of windows, the type of floor and so on.

The second part of the seminar the entire group looked at the 1601 inventory for the first floor of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, UK.[4] The house was built by Bess of Hardwick in the second half of the sixteenth century, and in 1601 she drew up her will with 3 adjoining inventories: one for each of her important building projects, that is Chatsworth, the New Hardwick Hall and the Old Hardwick Hall. Both the old and new Halls at Hardwick, together with their contents, were bequeathed to Bess of Hardwick’s second son William Cavendish and his male heirs. Her eldest son, Henry Cavendish, was to inherit Chatsworth but not its contents, a reflection of their troubled relationship. The contents were bequeathed to William.[5]

Based on the inventory and additional iconographic material, we came to an interesting reconstruction of the spatial organization of Chatsworth House’s first floor.[6] Since no floor plan survives, this reconstruction should be considered more of an organogram, a schematic representation of connections and sequences. Room dimensions, windows or other architectural details can not be deduced from this preliminary reconstruction. Ideally this inventory could be combined with other source material, such as building accounts or descriptions of visits, something we will hopefully be able to do during our visit to Chatsworth in three weeks!

 

Notes:

[1] I want to thank all the Privacy colleagues for their wonderful input and new ideas on the knowledge that can be gained from inventories.

[2] Antenhofer, Christina Inventories as Material and Textual Sources for Late Medieval and Early Modern Social, Gender and Cultural History (14th-16th centuries), in: MEMO 7: Textual Thingness /Textuelle Dinghaftigkeit 2020: 22-46. doi: 10.25536/20200702

[3] Rigsarkivet, Overhofmarskallatet, F: Inventarieregnskaber. Two inventories, dated 1739 and 1741.

[4] Transcriptions of all three of the inventories were published: Levey, Satina, and Peter Thornton. Of Houshold Stuff: The 1601 Inventories of Bess of Hardwick. London: National Trust, 2001.

[5] White, Gillian. ‘“That Whyche Ys Nedefoulle and Nesesary”: The Nature and Purpose of the Original Furnishings and Decoration of Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire’. PhD thesis, University of Warwick, Centre for the Study of the Renaissance, 2005. http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/1200/.

[6] Mark Girouard has done a similar exercise, with the difference that he based the reconstruction of rooms on the floorplans of the new Chatsworth, as they were included in the Vitruvius Britannicus. Girouard, Mark. ‘Elizabethan Chatsworth’. Country Life CLIV (1973): 1668–72.

 

Privacy in an Early Modern Prison

Leonora Christina, daughter of the Danish King Christian IV, was imprisoned in the Blue Tower of Copenhagen castle from 1663 to 1685, as she was suspected of having knowledge of her husband’s betrayal of the Kingdom. After her release from prison in 1685, she wrote a record of her 22 years in the Blue Tower, addressed to her children and known as Jammers Minde (translated into English as Memoirs of Leonora Christina).[1] The manuscript disappeared for several decades, until it came back to light in the nineteenth century and it was published in 1869. It is now considered one of the most important works written in seventeenth-century Denmark.

Portrait of Leonora Christina Ulfeldt by Gerrit van Honthorst (Frederiksborg Museum)

One of the approaches at the Centre for Privacy Studies is to look for priv*-words, analysing the context in which they appear and see if they tell us anything about early modern notions of privacy. Doing this analysis on the text of Jammers Minde shows that these words are particularly used in the context of the process against Count Corfitz Ulfeldt, Leonora’s husband.

“I was suspected of being privy to an act of treason for which he has never been prosecuted according to law, much less convicted of it, and the cause of the accusation was never explained to me, humbly and sorrowfully as I desired that it should be” (p. 89)

 

During the interrogations she was asked who visited her husband when they stayed in Bruges, which was a question she could not answer, since he received his guests in a “private chamber”, where she was not admitted. This gives an interesting insight into privacy in the marital relations of the seventeenth century. During another interrogation she goes on to tell her interrogators that her husband would never keep anything secret from her that concerned them both.

Imprisonment can be considered one of the most far-reaching infringements of privacy. Throughout history many famous persons have been subjected to periods of detention, although in early modern times this might have had a slightly different dimension. Analysing the text there is reference to different heuristic zones: Leonora’s cell or her chamber, her body and her mind.

At the moment of her arrival to the Blue Tower, Leonora Christina is forced to give up all her possessions and clothes, and is searched by one the ladies of the Queen:

“She had formerly sought for letters on the private parts of my person” (p. 99)

 

The Blue Tower of Copenhagen Castle

 

We also get a glimpse of the environment where Eleonora Christina spent the 22 years of her imprisonment through her memoirs. She was apparently put in the Blue Tower that was part of Copenhagen castle, located on Slotsholmen (more or less the same site of the current Christiansborg). She was put into a room referred to as the “Dark Church”, a horrendous space without windows meant for the worst criminals.

 

 

 

 

“I found before me a small low table, on which stood a brass candlestick with a lighted candle, a high chair, two small chairs, a fire-wood bedstead without hangings and with old and hard bedding, a night-stool and chamber utensil. At every side to which I turned I was met with stench; and no wonder, for three peasants who had been imprisoned here, and had been removed on that very day, and placed elsewhere, had used the walls for their requirements.” (p. 110)

She stayed in this room for seven years, accompanied by several ladies who kept her company in order of the Queen. The company did not, however, ease her captivity. Several times in her record she brings up the annoyance of their chatting and the attempts she made to silence them.

“I was never more glad than when the gates were closed between me and those who were to guard me. Then I had only the woman alone, whom I brought to silence, sometimes amicably, and at others angrily and with threats.” (p. 94)

 

An undeniable threshold was indeed established by the gates of her prison. According to her description, the “Dark Church” had two doors with locks which separated her from the prison governor. Despite being an obvious spatial threshold, this did not at all contribute to Leonora’s privacy. The doors were opened or closed off by the governor or prison warden and she did not have any control to this effect. According to Altman control and the freedom to make oneself accessible or inaccessible to others is essential in the notion of privacy.[2] While architecture is often a boundary between different private and public realms by doors, walls and windows, there is no opportunity for spatial privacy at prison. Leonora Christina does however protect her mind and her sense of self by putting up an additional boundary or ‘wall of defence’ she found in God.

“I have ever clung steadfastly to God, who has been and still is my wall of defence against every attack, and my refuge in every kind of misfortune and adversity.” (p. 95)

 

When King Christian V ascended the throne, Leonora’s circumstances somewhat bettered, as she was moved to the room above the “Dark Church”. Newly whitewashed this room too had a stench upon her arrival. While there was a window towards the vaulted ceiling of the space, she now reports four doors with locks, separating her from the staircase.

“He then affixed locks to the door of the outer chamber, and to the door leading to the stairs; he had, therefore, four locks and doors twice a day to lock and unlock.” (p. 150)

 

The window allowed her to hear some of the courtly life that was going on just outside her prison walls and when rope-dancers performed in the castle square she even managed to catch a glimpse by building a construction of the sparse furniture in her cell.

“So I took the bedclothes from the bed and placed the boards on the floor and set the bed upright in front of the window, and the night-stool on the top of it. In order to get upon the bedstead, the table was placed at the side, and a stool by the table in order to get upon the table, and a stool upon the table, in order to get upon the night-stool, and a stool on the night-stool, so that we could stand and look comfortably, though not both at once.” (p. 205)

 

As part of the easing of Leonora’s captivity after the coronation of Christian V, a new and lower window was put in the prison on 25 July 1674. She was given material to pass the time, an outer apartment and some money to dispose of for herself.

On 19 May 1685 Leonora Christina was finally released from prison, never having confessed to any of the accusations.

Leonora Christina in the Blue Tower of Copenhagen Castle. A commemoration by Kristian Zahrtmann, 1891 (SMK, Royal Collection of Paintings and Sculptures, KMS 1436)

NOTES:

[1] Ulfeldt, Leonora Christina, Memoirs of Leonora Christina, daughter of Christian IV of Denmark, written during her imprisonment in the Blue Tower at Copenhagen 1663-1685, translated by F.E Bunnett (London: Henry S. King & Co, 1872).

[2] Altman I., “Privacy Regulation: Culturally Universal or Cultural Specific?” Journal of Social Issues 33, 3 (1977) 66–84 (67).

Privacy and Knowledge: Fundamental Fields of Study for Twenty-first-Century Democracies

Photo by Anete Lusina from Pexels

Citizenship plays an essential part in a functioning modern democratic polity. The consolidation of mass democracy and the nation state, mass consumption and capitalism, as well as the development of rational knowledge are the main elements that built this modern polity. Part of the nation state’s function has been to develop a welfare state with the aim to make its citizens thrive. After all, to make citizens thrive was the old Aristotelian ideal of the polis, often translated as ‘city-state’, as the sole space for human beings, political animals, to achieve their potential. In order to build this social and political system, public institutions evolved into complex bureaucracies, which gathered more and more information about its citizens. Sociologists have referred to this as ‘information society’ or ‘knowledge society’.

The early modern period gave Europe the foundations of its modern vocabulary. Theologians, and legal and political thinkers established the basis for our modern concepts such as citizen, the state, law, freedom, the nation. The construction of the nation-state was the project of the nineteenth century, while the construction of the welfare state was the project of the twentieth century. Both projects have created a bureaucracy in charge of gathering information about citizens. This knowledge has also served as identity formation, political identity, which resulted in tremendous crises (world wars based on nationalism, and the use of national registers to identify specific groups of population). The twenty-first-century model is still under formation, but seems to be basing itself on the digital revolution; a cyber-Leviathan struggling to cap a multitude of fluid political identities.

The good functioning of a modern democratic polity has become increasingly complex in our ‘knowledge society’. New actors have challenged nation-states. Multiple actors (transnational groups, the internet, foreign countries, large multinational or global companies, NGOs, etc.) impact on the functioning of democratic nation-states. These alternative actors have sometimes surpassed governments and public authorities in gathering knowledge about their citizens and in using it. The USA engaged in mass surveillance post 9/11, sometimes with the complicity of local governments.[1] Private corporations have established an economic system called ‘surveillance capitalism’.[2] China has built ‘smart cities’ where citizens cannot cross the street without the party knowing it.[3]

That ‘knowledge is power’ is a well-known aphorism, commonly traced to Francis Bacon (1561—1626), from his 1597 Meditationes Sacrae: ‘ipsa scientia potestas est’ (‘knowledge itself is power’). Thomas Hobbes (1588—1679), who knew him, also wrote in his 1668 Latin edition of Leviathan ‘Scientia potentia est’, adding: ‘sed parva’; or in the original 1651 version ‘The Sciences, are small Powers…’[4] Hobbes’s point is that, since science cannot be contained in one person, it is a small power. Knowledge of everything, for Hobbes on the other hand, is real power, but only pertains to nature. What would Hobbes say today when governments and corporations have access to an unprecedented amount of personal information about individuals and have the ability to process and analyse all the data collected? ‘Scientia potentia est sed parva’?

Castells theorized the ‘information age’ as a competition between the self and networks driven by technology.[5] For Castells, social groups construct their identity, which shape the institutions of society. Who controls the means of constructing collective identities determines the content of these identities. Now, since the technological tools available determine social change, who controls this technology has tremendous power over society.

Today, the topic of privacy is therefore of paramount importance. Technology and economy have merged into a system of collection of data from individuals as a way of making a profit. This deep knowledge of individuals is not only selling new objects of consumption, but constituting political identities, disrupting elections, impacting freedom of thought by altering one’s access to unbiased information.[6] Have algorithms and artificial intelligence used by social media companies and governments to mine big data reached the status of all-knowing God? The individual still has free will against this powerful knowledge by protecting her privacy. A recent book argues simply that ‘privacy is power’.[7] If privacy is power and knowledge is power, research on the dynamic between knowledge and privacy is fundamental for democracy. Historical research should inscribe itself within this grand narrative of modernity as a construction of identities between the self and networks by powerful technologies. Or of postmodern deconstruction into small narratives, as Lyotard has it (more on this in a future post).[8]

Privacy studies as a field of research is still in its infancy despite a handbook.[9] What is missing is a richer historical perspective. The Centre for Privacy Studies at the University of Copenhagen is aiming at developing an interdisciplinary outlook on privacy and a method for privacy studies as a field. The history of privacy has been a developing topic of research for the past three decades. But it is more recently that the idea of privacy and the private/public nexus as threshold of contested power as a relevant tool for studying the past has emerged.[10] Privacy studies contribute to at the evolution of various understandings of privacy across time and space, and how they have been justified or limited in political ideologies.

The field of the history of knowledge can ironically be traced to Bacon again with his 1605 The Advancement of Learning, inspiring the taxonomy of knowledge in the French Encyclopédie.[11] It has had different names and objects of study over time.[12] The field is developing rapidly with a new Journal of the History of Knowledge created in 2020,[13] the Lund Centre for the History of Knowledge,[14] following the work of Peter Burke since the 1990s.[15] Knowledge studies should examine how political knowledge of citizens was created, limited, and disseminated throughout modernity.

Knowledge has always been considered partial and limited. It could be that it is limited to an elite or that it is deemed dangerous and concealed, or simply that it is not possible to gather enough information. Echoing Bacon, Foucault has established a fruitful conceptual tool with the nexus power/knowledge that mutually create and influence one another: ‘the exercise of power perpetually creates knowledge and conversely, knowledge constantly induces effects of power’.[16] He had previously studied Bentham’s panopticon for prisons, a device bereaving prisoners of privacy and enabling the collection of information on their private behaviours at will and at random so that they discipline themselves.[17] In this sense, there has also been privacy of political knowledge of citizens. What justifies on the one hand the limitations to citizens’ privacy to gather political knowledge, and what justifies the limitation of citizens’ knowledge to this?

[1] Elliot D. Cohen, Mass Surveillance and State Control: The Total Information Awareness Project (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Timothy H. Edgar, Beyond Snowden: Privacy, Mass Surveillance, and the Struggle to Reform the NSA (Washington, D.C: Brookings Institution Press, 2017).

[2] Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power (New York, NY: Public Affairs, 2019).

[3] Kai Strittmatter, We Have Been Harmonised: Life in China’s Surveillance State (La Vergne: Old Street Publishing, 2019).

[4] Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Richard Tuck, Revised student edition, Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 63.

[5] Manuel Castells, The Information Age, Volumes 1-3: Economy, Society and Culture (Malden (Mass.); Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1999).

[6] Ivan Manokha, ‘Surveillance: The DNA of Platform Capital—The Case of Cambridge Analytica Put into Perspective’, Theory & Event 21, no. 4 (2018): 891–913.

[7] Carissa Véliz, Privacy Is Power: Why and How You Should Take Back Control of Your Data (London: Bantam Press, 2020).

[8] Jean-François Lyotard, La condition postmoderne:  rapport sur le savoir, Collection critique. (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1979).

[9] Bart van Der Sloot and Aviva de Groot, eds., The Handbook of Privacy Studies: An Interdisciplinary Introduction. (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018).

[10] Sarah E. Igo, The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2018).

[11] Francis Bacon, The Two Bookes of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning Divine and Humane (London: Henrie Tomes, 1605).

[12] Peter Burke, What Is the History of Knowledge?, What Is History? (Oxford: Polity Press, 2015), chap. 1.

[13] https://journalhistoryknowledge.org.

[14] Johan Östling, David Larsson Heidenblad, and Anna Nilsson Hammar, ‘Developing the History of Knowledge’, in Forms of Knowledge: Developing the History of Knowledge (Lund: Nordic Academic Press, 2020), 9–26.

[15] Burke, What Is the History of Knowledge?

[16] Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge:  Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977 / (New York, N.Y: Pantheon Books, 1980), 52.

[17] Michel Foucault, Surveiller et Punir. Naissance de La Prison (Paris: Gallimard, 1975).