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Durham University

School of Modern Languages & Cultures

Events in Modern Languages & Cultures

Professor Isabella Lazzarini: The Power of Writing. Public and Private Letters in Late Medieval Italy (XIVth - XVth centuries)

20th February 2008, 15:15, A56, Elvet Riverside I, Durham University
Professor Isabella Lazzarini will be giving a paper entitled 'The Power of Writing. Public and Private Letters in Late Medieval Italy (XIVth-XVth centuries)' on 20 February 2008 as part of the Modern Languages Seminar Series.

Italy in the late Middle Ages is a mosaic composed by kingdoms (Naples or Sicily, or even the Papal state), principalities (the duchy of Milan or the marquisate of Mantua), republics (Florence, Venice, Siena), and smaller and less formally defined territorial powers. Their political structure is a sum of different and deeply interconnected practices of power that reveals common characters and seems produced by similar logics. These common characters are first of all the complex of public written records and the group of the professionals of writing and the offices that produce and preserve them. The creation of new typologies of public written records goes together with the growth of territorial powers legitimacy and offers new instruments to the development of a shared and innovative ideology of public authority.

One of the most characteristic and innovative typologies of Italian late mediaeval public written records are the letters, that is the missive, the litterae clausae, with a single addressee and a specific communicative content. The missiva is a dynamic instrument both for practical or political purposes and for cultural communication. Thanks to the growth of widespread literacy in the urban milieux, the social life of political, economic and cultural XVth century élites is increasingly permeated by a whole complex of communicative networks alimented by means of an endless production of private and public letters. The result is “uno mundo de charta” (“a world of paper”) which saturates public and family archives and pervades every level of the society, at the crossroad of status, gender, age, role: the aim of this communication would be to explore the wide variety of this flexible “revolution” of the late mediaeval Italian communication network.

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