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New Lecture Series: Urban Governance and Civic Participation in Words and Stone

Our Democracy in History Workgroup, the Department of Medieval Studies at CEU, the Department of History of Art at Birkbeck, University of London, and the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Erfurt launches a new lecture series that will seek the origins of civic participation in political thought and explore its forms of expression in written and visual media from Late Antiquity to the seventeenth century.

The question whether the governance and autonomy of medieval cities and the participation of their citizens in managing communal affairs may be regarded a laboratory of democracy or yet another form of the rule of the privileged has re-emerged with new answers in recent scholarship. Besides urban and legal historians and scholars of political thought, research in art history, literacy, spatial studies, and global history have provided a set of new answers. Governing bodies and institutions, with varying degree of participation by inhabitants of different social and legal standing have been examined, as well as the shaping of the physical environment, including its open spaces, buildings and ornaments.

The new lecture series, convened by Zoe Opacic (Birkbeck), Susanne Rau (Erfurt), and Katalin Szende (CEU DI), will also prepare the ground for a Summer University Course entitled Urban Governance and Civic Participation in Words and Stone to be organized by the Open Society University Network (OSUN) in July 2022.

While the OSUN course aims to examine the notion of civic participation through a critical lens in medieval and Early Modern Central Europe, the invited experts of the online lecture series will cover the same topic in a longer historical perspective and a broader geographical spectrum.

“I am very much looking forward to this lecture series - because we can learn a lot about the history of democracy here. However, this history does not begin with the implementation of the right to vote in the 19th century, as it is often portrayed. We have to go back to medieval and early modern cities to learn about the invention of an art of governance and civic participation,” Susanne Rau said, adding that “the lecture series will be an exciting journey into the past of our cities.”

“Citizenship and civic participation are hot topics in current political discourse, not least because of the limitations imposed on their practices by various stakeholders. We have invited renowned experts to examine these notions through a critical lens and against a longer historical perspective, in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period,” said Katalin Szende. “The talks to which we cordially invite you will explore their forms of expression in written and visual media and their reflection in political thought, replacing outdated common assumptions with insights from new research,” she continued.

“This exciting and timely lecture series will help us examine medieval and early modern roots of our civic and urban societies - the institutions, systems and practices that hold us together as individuals and allow us to prosper but also divide and oppress. As an art historian I especially look forward to the wealth of visual material we will encounter across time and space,” said Zoe Opacic. “The tone is set by our poster image of Prague's iconic Town Hall. A symbol of the city and its governance in the Middle Ages with an imposing tower and an astronomical clock, it was vastly extended in neo-Renaissance style in the 19th century, only to be blown up at the end of World War Two destroying its precious archives. Democracy is indeed very fragile and forged over a long period of time,” she added.

Every lecture in the series is open to the public. For more details please visit this page.

Cover image: the Old Town Hall in Prague. Source: Wikimedia Commons
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