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The culture of secrecy and the art of worldly wisdom in Early Modern Europe 1500-1650

Gordian, Michael

BA, Kulturwissenschaften- / Kulturgeschichte-Vertiefung



The Early Modern Period (ca. 1500-1650) witnessed many profound socio-cultural, economical and political transformations. In the nineteenth century eminent scholars like Jacob Burckhardt, correctly or not, envisioned this epoch as the birth of modernity. Recently, Jon R. Snyder and Perez Zagorin have described this period as 'the age of dissimulation', referring to a crucial discourse cultivated in the elite social circles of the Ancien Régime. This pan-European debate centred on the concept of worldly (i.e. practical) wisdom to guide the prudent individual through the competitive and often hostile social environment of his time. Dissimulatio (disguise and concealment) and simulatio (pretending and feigning) are two key notions comprising a number of elaborate strategies for social interaction and self-presentation. This course aims to elucidate the main principals and central concepts of the shadowy art of worldly knowledge – or, in other words – how to stay afloat in society. Discussing key texts from various European literatures and fields such as moral philosophy, courtly culture and political theory, a wide and diverse picture shall be drawn. Command of any western European language (especially Spanish, Italian, French, Dutch, Latin etc.) is very welcome but not obligatory.

Introductory Secondary Literature: Jon R. Snyder, Dissimulation and the Culture of Secrecy in Early Modern Europe (2009). A full list of literature will be circulated before, and during the first class.

Please register for the course via e-mail by the 10th of April:

Hinweise zur Veranstaltung:

Hinweise zum Blockseminar:
The course will take place in three successive sessions in June (Thursday, Friday and Saturday). There will also be an introductory session in April. The exact dates will be announced shortly before the start of term.

Einführungsveranstaltung in der ersten Semesterwoche! Introduction at the beginning of april!

One class presentation and a research paper (essay).


Termine werden noch bekannt gegeben. Appointments will follow.