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Social History of Riding in Late Medieval Spain and the Early Modern Americas (13th-16th c.)

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SHOR (Social History of Riding in Late Medieval Spain and the Early Modern Americas (13th-16th c.))

Reporting period: 2020-06-01 to 2021-05-31

This project focused on horse riding as a social practice in late medieval Spain and its expansion into the Americas (13th-16th c.). This specific equine-human relationship was fundamental to almost all aspects of premodern societies. By approaching horse riding as a social practice, the critical evaluation and further development of current social practice theory was a key component of the project. The projects helps to understand the major transformations experienced by Iberian society in the early modern era as well as the challenges posed by the expansion into the «New World».
By choosing an untraditional focus on the late medieval and early modern period, the project deconstructed the still predominant caesura of 1492 in historical research. By critically challenging traditional narratives, this study brought the largely unknown riding and
horsemanship knowledge of medieval Spain in fruitful discussion with early modern transformations of the social and cultural significance of riding in particular and of social inclusion and exclusion in Spain’s territories in general. This pioneering project, however, also contributes to the current methodological discussion of social practice theory and puts the concept of bodily «routines» to the test. By shifting the main research interest from riding culture to the social significance of this specific human-animal interaction and co-movement, recent developments in German and Anglo-American social theory could prove highly fruitful. Social practice theory can be understood as a significant turn away from grand narratives of society and also away from human-only agents. Recent methodological and heuristic developments highlight the analytical potential to detect societies’ social border regimes. Methodologically, this theoretical approach allows the inclusion all kinds of agents that constitute or challenge what is to be understood as the social. The overarching research question was how to expand our knowledge on the social importance of animals and to put the modern, post-enlightenment differentiation of culture/nature and human/non-human into historical perspective. During the MSC Action this research interest was addressed in various forms. The project has succeeded not only in establishing research links between German- and English-speaking practice theorists, but also in attracting a wider public through various forms of publication.
The Individual Fellowship offered the ideal funding scheme to enhance the fellow's promising skills as an international research in social history, but also in the two booming fields of social theory and animal studies in general. The University of Sheffield provided a stimulating environment in which to carry out the research project, with opportunities for contacts with researchers working in other fields. Despite the strict Covid 19 restrictions in the UK, conducting this research project allowed the fellow to combine her prior knowledge of German social practice theory with social theory practiced in Sheffield and Anglo-American schools of thought.Therefore the fellowship allowed the fellow to refine her theoretical knowledge and to significantly advance her current second book project (habilitation thesis).
The project was vital in IS’s career development as it offered her the possibility to engage herself in an interdisciplinary research context. The major methodological challenge as to transfer social practice theory to late medieval horse riding. By systematically studying late medieval horse care and riding treatises, the fellow was able to reconstruct human-equine bodily routines essential for our understanding of human-animal forms of interaction. To include animals’ habits and their physical and cognitive training in practice theory constitutes a significant shift in social theory in general.
One of the research objectives was to provide a methodology of social practice that integrates human and non-human actors. Instead of adding actors to the tableau of agency, it was one of the main objectives of this project to focus on human-equine motion sequence and training to test if practice theory might be adapted to non-human doings. The project has proven that the practice theoretical concept of bodily «routine» offers the best approach. By studying late medieval riding manuals it became clear that establishing physical and emotional routines were essential to practice late medieval horse riding. Another research objective aimed to analyse horse riding as a social practice in late medieval and early modern Spain in order to gain in-depth knowledge on processes of social transformation characterising early modern Spanish society and its challenges of integrating new cultures and societal orders. By studying medieval text on social orders the project could show that horse riding and the physical, but also societal distinction of noble equestrianism were not just used as a metaphor to illustrate superiority and dominance, but also as a physical performance of social status. This performative dynamisation of social distinction was then used by the Spanish conquistadors in the colonial Americas.
The fellow is now preparing an article for one of the leading journals in Anglo-American historical research. In general, the findings form a significant part of her habilitation thesis.

At Sheffield, the fellow was met in an environment of academic excellence, innovative research networks and a long-standing tradition of actually lived interdisciplinarity. From a networking perspective, during and especially after the fellowship, the fellow had and will have all the necessary skills and contacts to play an important role in strengthening the connections between Anglo-American and German-speaking historical practice theory. The international and interdisciplinary conference organised with the MSC Action funding has not only received much positive feedback from all contributors about its avant-garde level of discussion but has also led to plans to seek funding for a more permanent format of the network.
An important impact is on the fact that practice theory has long been dominated by social sciences and especially sociology. During the fellowship, it became clear that historical scholarship does not only have to adapt theories from other disciplines, but that it can actively contribute to methodological and theoretical conceptualisation.
The fellowship has contributed significantly to the development of the fellow's expertise and was a major step in her career to become not only a qualified, but a versatile researcher who is able to mediate and bridge between disciplines and between different schools of theoretical thought. The fellowship also enabled her to enhance her prospect for an academic position (publications and habilitation theses), with which she can engage in innovative scientific dialogue with both students and a broader public.