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Durham University

Centre for Visual Arts and Culture

Marcus Meer


Working title of PhD thesis: Signs of Power, Signs of Identity, Signs of the City: Heraldry and Urban Visual Culture in Late Medieval England and Germany

I completed a BA in History and Linguistics at Bielefeld University, followed by the MSt in Medieval History at Oxford University. In 2014/2015, I was part of the research project 'The Performance of Coats of Arms' at Münster University, which aims to re-evaluate heraldic sources from the perspective of cultural history and investigate their functional versatility and social importance as a means of visual communication in the Middle Ages.

My PhD thesis as part of the Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarship Programme at the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture aims to analyse the functions of heraldry as a means of visual communication in English and German medieval cities, and the perceptions of coats of arms in urban society.

Coats of arms were a ubiquitous element of medieval urban visual culture: They embellished gates and towers, and could be found in the stained glass of the churches and on the epitaphs of tombs, inside the burghers’ houses and on the facade of merchants’ and craftsmen’s shops, on the beams and walls of the town hall, during pageants, the ruler’s entry, communal processions, and other civic rituals. In charters, town chronicles, diaries, chivalric treatises and urban armorials, too, coats of arms—depicted, blazoned or merely mentioned—appear as a ubiquitous urban phenomenon that was widely understood and employed in urban society.

Despite its omnipresence in medieval urban visual culture, however, heraldry still tends to be seen as an aristocratic phenomenon. To the contrary I want to demonstrate that townspeople too participated in a universal means of heraldic communication. Heraldry was used to establish and represent an urban identity (individual and collective) that confronted nobility and not ineptly imitated it. Heraldic signs were discussed in genealogical and historical myths, contested in legal cases, or placed or defaced as an expression of individual or communal consensus and conflict. As part of the communicative strategies of competing social formations (factions within the burgher commune; resident nobles; princely, royal and ecclesiastical visitors), heraldic signs were displayed to establish presence in urban space, and claim and contest legitimacy and authority. They were an active means of visual communication that reflected, reinforced and negotiated political structures and social hierarchies of urban society.

Selected Publications

Conference Papers & Presentations

—‘A Sign With Many Histories?: Perceptions of the London Coat of Arms in Past and Present’, Visual Intersections I, 11-13 July 2016, Durham.

—‘Recycling the Roman Past: The Interplay of Ancient Remains, Representative Strategies, and Historical Narratives in Late Medieval Augsburg’, Re//Generate: Materiality and the Afterlives of Things in the Middle Ages, 6-7 May 2016, St Andrews.

—‘History on the Walls and Windows to the Past: Heraldic Commemoration of Urban Identity in Late Medieval Town Halls’, Heraldry in Medieval and Early Modern State-Rooms: Towards a Typology of Heraldic Programmes in Spaces of Self-Representation, 16-18 March 2016, Münster.

—‘Signs of Identity, Signs of the City: Heraldic Display of Urban Identity in the Cronographia Augustensium and the Gossembrot Armorial’, paper at the conference ‘Towards New Thinking in Urban Historiography’, 20-21 May 2015, Bruges.


—, 'Heraldry, Historiography and Urban Identity in Late Medieval Augsburg: The Cronographia Augustensium and the Gossembrot Armorial', in: 'Towards New Thinking in Urban Historiography: Old Texts, New Approaches', ed. by Lisa Demets, Tineke Van Gassen, Bram Caers, and Valerie Vrancken, Turnhout: Brepols [forthcoming].

—, Review: ‘Neue Alte Sachlichkeit: Studienbuch Materialität Des Mittelalters’, edited by Jan Keupp and Romedio Schmitz-Esser, German History, 2016, <


— Review: ‘Die Zeichen einer Zeit: Georg Scheibelreiter entführt in die Welt der „Wappen im Mittelalter“’, in:, 08.04.2015, <


—‘Neue Perspektiven einer Kulturgeschichte der Heraldik’ [New Perspectives of a Cultural History of Heraldry], in: Mittelalter: Interdisziplinäre Forschung und Rezeptionsgeschichte, 2014, <>.