Children's "Archives," Familial Memory, and Political Practice in Early Modern Germany

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 4:10 PM
Water Tower Parlor (Palmer House Hilton)
Hannah Murphy, King's College London
Between 1530 and 1532, the eleven-year-old child Paul Behaim (1519-1568) began to record the finest samples of his handwriting in a slender notebook; thirty years later his son, Paul Behaim the younger (1557-1621) did the same. Members of an influential Nuremberg, patrician family, they were two of hundreds of children across the imperial cities of early modern Germany who created records, which were subsequently preserved by their families. Within these records, which collectively detailed health, family histories, devotional practice and items of family business, one feature was omnipresent - a lingering attention to the attainment and practice of 'documentary skills', such as reading, writing and reckoning. From the age of four, children such as the Behaims were sent to writing masters where they practiced an increasingly refined art of calligraphy, one which accompanied their studies in mathematics and rhetoric until they left the city for university or apprenticeships in their family's firms.

Texts such as the Behaims' calligraphy books were created in order to prepare children for the skills of politics and commerce; but they were kept and preserved for their sentimental, aesthetic and practical qualities. Records such as this provide unique insight into the men and women who created Nuremberg's documentary culture in the sixteenth-century, a moment when the political records increased exponentially, and government and mercantile practices increasingly relied on writing. Reflecting on their practice, their material shape and their preservation links the early modern political developments of documentary culture to the contingent, sentimental, often gendered practices of making and storing ephemeral household memories in new, and I believe fruitful, ways.

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