Cultures of Bureaucracy

Event Date: 
17 Mar 2019 to 19 Mar 2019


Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America (Toronto, 17-19 March 2019)


Organizers: Giacomo Giudici (Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Storici/Warburg Institute), Rachel Midura (Stanford University) & Luca Zenobi (University of Oxford)


We seek papers to contribute to a cultural history of Renaissance bureaucracy. During the last forty years, scholars have applied a cultural-historical perspective to the production, reception, and use of textual objects in a number of domains, yet the cultures of Renaissance administration remain largely unexplored. The very notion of “bureaucracy” seems to run counter to themes of cultural history: hierarchy in place of agency, exclusion in place of collaboration, and formality in place of negotiation.

A cultural approach to the people, practices, and material texts of Renaissance bureaucracy has the potential to challenge traditional notions of early modern statecraft and administration. Local and regional officials, secretaries and clerks, diplomats and couriers weathered the storms of war, the upset of regime change, and the occasional bankruptcy of their employers. Tax records, chancery documents, and ample official correspondence show an ongoing tension between ideals and customs in the worlds they moved between. How did notions of publicity and privacy, patronage and service, honor and dishonor guide documentary production, reception, and use? How do seemingly formulaic texts demonstrate both cultural influence and individual ambitions? How did protocol and administrative ideals shape the private lives of bureaucrats?

For this series of panels, we encourage papers to draw from any cultural-historical approaches, including material, gender- and class-based analyses. We particularly welcome papers that find collaboration and negotiation in bureaucratic archives, and/or contribute to a more humanized understanding of the Renaissance state.


Potential themes might include:

  • bureaucracy from below: agency and informal networks in the production, use, and reception of political-administrative documents, including outsiders to bureaucracy, women and non-traditional office-holders;
  • popular perceptions and depictions of bureaucrats, and their positive and negative influence on governance;
  • spatial histories of administration and the spaces of action (from offices and archives, to public venues and private houses);
  • bureaucracy on the move: travelling personnel and exchange of administrative ideas;
  • philosophical, literary and artistic themes related to imagined administrations, notions of civil service, and self-fashioning by agents of the state;
  • bureaucratic patronage and the political administration of art, music, and architecture.


Please send a brief abstract (max. 150 words) and CV to the panel organizers at The deadline is June 30 2018.

Submission date for papers: 
30 Jun 2018