Paper in Early Modern Europe

‘Paper Princes’. Investigating the role of paper in early modern diplomacy, ca. 1460-1560

Project by Dr Megan WILLIAMS, from Groningen University (Netherlands)


Paper PrincesHow do societies deal with new communications technologies? What impact did the new technology of paper have on early modern diplomacy, state formation, and dynastic or ‘international’ relations?
The sixteenth century saw an important maturation of political and diplomatic institutions across Europe – a maturation partly facilitated by paper. This three-part project examines how sixteenth-century diplomats and chancelleries obtained, used, and organized information-bearing paper. What consequences did the adoption of and use of paper have for diplomacy, information management, and foreign policy decision-making between ca. 1460 and 1560?

Procuring Paper. What material constraints did early modern diplomats and the chancellery secretaries with whom they corresponded face in political knowledge management? Where, and from whom, for how much, and in what quantities did they obtain the tools of their trade — paper, ink, wax, parchment, or pens? The early modern European paper trade is an ideal illustration of premodern recycling. Yet it is one of the least well-known early modern industries, despite the fact that it intersected with the era’s booming textile trade, with the highly-capitalized spice and long-distance luxury trades, with apothecaries, with printing and the book trade, with gendered labor practices, and with intellectual property rights, among other well-studied issues.

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