The early modern court adopted and developed exemplary cultural practices where objects and spaces became central to propagating power as well as places for exchange with other powers. This combination of images, objects, and sounds confronted the senses, making a powerful and distinctive impression of the resident family and the region they represented: flickering candlelight on glass and gold vessels adorned credenze (sideboards); musical instruments announced royal entries or provided entertainment; brightly coloured tapestries covered the palace walls along with paintings of biblical or mythological stories; cabinets displayed antiquities or rarities; perfume burners permeated the air; while the smells and tastes of rare delicacies at the centre of dining tables made for a multi-sensory spectacle. 

This year the Open University’s Spaces & Places conference will address the theme of ‘Experiencing the Court’ by exploring the senses and the lived experiences of courtly life, whether based in a particular residence or defined by the travels of an itinerant ruler. This annual conference is fundamentally interdisciplinary: literary, musical, architectural, artistic and religious spaces will be the subjects of enquiry, not as discrete or separate entities, but ones which overlapped, came into contact with one another, and at times were in conflict. 

The conference will examine life at court and will consider the following questions:

  • How can approaching the court in terms of the senses provide new methodologies for understanding each institution? 
  • How were medieval and early modern courtly spaces adapted and transformed through the movement of material and immaterial things? 
  • Which particular aspects of political, social and economic infrastructures enabled the exchange of objects and ideas?

Papers that address new methodologies, the digital humanities, object-centred enquiries, cross-cultural comparisons, or new theoretical perspectives are particularly welcome.

Please send a 150 word abstract along with a short biography to Leah Clark (leah.clark@open.ac.uk) and Helen Coffey (Helen.coffey@open.ac.uk) by 15 November 2018.

The conference will take place at the Open University’s partner institution Trinity Laban Conservatoire on 3 and 4 April 2019.  As Trinity Laban’s King Charles Court was once the site of Greenwich Palace, it is a fitting venue for a conference exploring court life.