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Circulating Knowledge, Making Europe. Cultural and scientific communication between Rome and the Holy Roman Empire during the Thirty Years War

Final Report Summary - CIKME (Circulating Knowledge, Making Europe. Cultural and scientific communication between Rome and the Holy Roman Empire during the Thirty Years War)

CiKME project has set out to investigate the texture of the complex cultural space between Rome, as the city of the pope and center of the Catholic world, and the Holy Roman Empire during the decades leading up to the outbreak of the extended European conflict known as the Thirty Years' War and covering its first stages (1590-1630). The relationships between Rome and the German world at a time of growing confessional antagonisms have not been conceived as bilateral. On the contrary, the research aimed at developing a refined understanding of a transnational space of knowledge circulating across the Alps, avoiding to preventively assuming geo-political categories as single interpretative grid of reference.
The project´s objectives have been set at both methodological and empirical level.
A reflection on space and spatiality as focal point to the understanding of how knowledge is generated and validated has been implemented since the beginning, as a part of an intellectual agenda designed in collaboration with Prof. Antonella Romano (Florence, EUI-Paris, EHESS). An international workshop has been organized with the aim to develop a collective reflection at a global level (Florence, European University Institute, May 2012). Publications (Italian and English) provided significant follows-up. CiKME´s main objective has been to shape an original analytical dimension, rather than provide a ready-made model for better understanding the making of knowledge and its circulation. Supported by such a pragmatic approach, empirical investigation has maintained a crucial role all along the project, in a dynamic and mutual interplay with conceptual reflection. The project has been developed against the background of the so called “spatial turn”, a renewed attention to space as essential to understanding social phenomena, which has deeply affected social sciences, in the last twenty years. Nevertheless, others have been the main intellectual references and the fields of investigation which have inspired the project. Although not explicitly engaged with spatial-values, the complex historiographical trend identified as “Science and Empire” put a lot of effort in investigating the contexts of knowledge making and the complex relationships between the “locality” of knowledge production and the “globality” of knowledge circulation. Relations between knowledge production and circulation and the ways in which their mutual boundaries have been conceptualized so far stand out indeed as major issue at stake for the project. Their spatial implications emerged in the project as a crucial turning point. In this respect, the powerful notion of space provided by Michel de Certeau as “practiced” by actors and therefore socially “produced” dimension proved to be a fundamental reference. De Certeau´s reflection has been coupled with a strong recognition of the communicative nature of knowledge, inspired by German sociology of knowledge and history of communication. By insisting on the interplay between spatial and communicative dimensions, “transfer of knowledge” approach - affirmed since 1980s, as a strong conceptual tool to overcome the “nation” as anachronistic analytical and spatial frame for early modern socio-cultural phenomena - has been re-addressed insofar as bilateral. The relational and cultural space between Rome/Italy and the Holy Roman Empire in the first half of the 17th century has therefore been re-framed, taking into account complex methodological tools, such as the histoire croisée, within a collective interdisciplinary work developed in collaboration with the scientist in charge, Prof. Matthias Schnettger at JGU (participants: Dr. Sebastian Becker ‒ history; Prof Elisabeth Oy Marra ‒ art history; Prof. Klaus Pietschmann – history of music). An exploratory panel has been organized by the Fellow and the scientist in charge (Munich, September 2013) and a publication has already been prepared as an important follow-up. Shifting configurations traced by actors´ multiple spatial experiences and practices and their complex communicative textures have emerged as an alternative and more dynamic conceptual framework for processes of knowledge production and circulation. By insisting on the above presented “productive” notion of space and on a communicative understanding of knowledge, production of knowledge and construction of space have been defined as mutual and intertwined processes. CiKME has therefore dealt with complex communicative settings wherein different media are mobilized, both in presence and at distance, and with plural textures of actors which shape spaces characterized by multiple discontinuities and interconnections.
At an empirical level, the role played by brokers and the issue of their complex identities has been addressed and fully explored. Figures of German court-physicians, settled in Rome and involved in networks of correspondence, such as Johannes Faber, or moving across the Alps, have proved to play a significant role in fostering contacts across the Alps well beyond the supposed fixed boundaries of orthodoxy. In this respect, the exchange and relations between the city of the pope and the Lutheran court of Hessen-Darmstadt, explored on the basis of untapped sources kept both in Rome and Darmstadt (Biblioteca Nazionale dei Lincei e Corsiniana, Fondo Faber; Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana; Hessisches Staatsarchiv Darmstadt), have provided a highly interesting case to better understand the role played by knowledge shaped across interdenominational spaces. In this context, Confessionalisation as a general explanatory model in a binary history and a unified interpretation of the international relations between Rome and the German world has been definitively discarded and replaced by a greater sensitivity for trans-confessional phenomena. Moreover, the project has strived to deconstruct the understanding of the Roman universalism as a single and coherent discourse implemented by the Pope and the Curia, by shedding light on the multiple communicative processes which supported it, at different levels. Several publications have already been submitted or are expected to be published in 2014.
Rome has been addressed as a “place” characterized by a particular communicative density and spatial complexity. The category of world city has been recognized as promising for the purpose of entering the complex interconnections of its spaces on different scales. As the ´capital´ of a small territory, the Papal State, and the symbolic center of the catholic world, Rome´s ´capacity of projection´ cannot be assumed as a matter of fact. On the contrary, the centrality of the world city has been re-thought as an essential issue which requires to be explored within a spatial-relational configuration rather than in isolation. An international workshop has been organized by the Fellow in collaboration with Prof. Elisabeth Oy-Marra (Mainz, June 2013) at the IEG in Mainz in order to explore the role played by knowledge to underpin and redefine world-city´s centrality. Natural histories, in plural form, have been addressed as communicative resources, and the meanings, as well as the potentialities of the “world-city” as an early modern historical analytical category have been explored in a spatial configuration which connected Rome, Madrid and Mexico between comparison and entanglement. The tension between natural histories and world-cities seems to be a promising node to be explored and proved to be an actual driving force fostering further research initiatives and international synergies. A historical reflection on the “origins” of the “world-city” - understood to be a current phenomenon investigated by urban sociologist and historians - does not aim at drowning an evolutionary line up to the present. On the contrary, it provides new tools for a finer understanding of the different kinds of urban knowledge and public spaces emerging in early modern time.
Insisting on CiKME´s wide interdisciplinary scope, as well as on the Fellow´s intellectual profile, materiality and objects have been emerging as further promising focuses. A new line of investigation has emerged from the project´s the dual-track inquiry on brokers between the Old and the new World, with particular reference to Jesuits. Nicolas Trigault´s European journey among Italian courts and German cities was aimed at gathering luxury-objects as gifts for the China Emperor. On the base of this case and the untapped sources re-traced so far, a new project has been designed and is now launched at the JGU by the fellow and prof. E. Oy Marra. It aims at deconstructing the images of things as static and immobile by re-tracing their “itineraries” and relations to multiple spatial dimensions.