On 26 and 27 September 2019, Stories of Survival will bring together a select group of researchers at Balliol College in Oxford to explore the potential of using signatures and comparable marks as sources in their own right for the study of the social, cultural, diplomatic, and legal history of the early modern period. By and large, we take signatures and signature-like marks inscribed in written documents for granted. When scholars think about their functions, they usually restrict themselves to discussing them in the context of identifying individuals, for instance the author of a letter, or authenticating documents as the sultan’s tuğra lends force to an Ottoman ferman or the signature under a cheque authorizes a financial transaction. It is telling that one of the most fundamental scholarly explorations of signatures, Béatrice Fraenkel’s La signature (1992), devotes considerable space to discussing them as legal devices and ‘the vestiges of a veritable system of signs of identity’ (p. 7).

Yet even signatures fulfilling this primary purpose often encode more than just the name and title, for instance the writer’s handwriting proficiency, preference for and practice in certain scripts, as well as degree of literacy. In addition, these signs often served a multitude of purposes in different contexts. The workshop will examine these different functions and their relevance in varying settings to further our understanding of how signatures and comparable marks can be used to generate new insights into historical phenomena. Presenters include Alicja Borys (Masaryk University, Brno), Christina Brauner (Tübingen), Richard Calis (Princeton), Feras Krimsti (Oxford), Hannah Murphy (King’s College London), Gauri Parasher (Heidelberg), Robyn Dora Radway (Central European University, Budapest), Henning Sievert (Heidelberg), and Tracey Sowerby (Oxford).

View the full programme. The meeting is organized by John-Paul Ghobrial and Tobias Graf (both Oxford).

Because of the particular nature of this workshop and the constraints of the venue, we regret that there is only a very limited number of places for additional participants. While attendance is free, we kindly ask those interested in participating to pre-register by emailing sosglobal@history.ox.ac.uk.