Welcome to the Blog: Let’s put a new light on medieval heraldry!

By the end of the Middle Ages, coats of arms were ubiquitous. Executed in stone, wood, stained glass and textiles or presented as textual descriptions, they penetrated virtually every public and private space. Deriving from the arbitrary signs borne on the shields of 12th century knights in battle and tournament, they had rapidly evolved into a highly complex and extremely powerful system of symbolic representation and were now available to men and women of all social ranks and professions, and to groups and institutions of every kind. In doing so, coats of arms were much more than mere tokens of identity.

It is astonishing that albeit their important presence in medieval communication, academic historians have paid yet but little attention to heraldic sources. Thus, as an important part of late medieval culture, deeply shaping its mentalities and practices, the  study of heraldic sources could offer highly innovative insights into late medieval culture and society, on issues such as kinship, family, identity, hierarchy, nobility, authority, representation, symbolic communication or visual culture, to name but a few.

In public opinion as much as in academic discussion, coats of arms are given credit often only to identify the makers, patrons or owners of documents, art objects and archaeological remains, fostering an understanding of heraldry as a simple ancillary science. This restricted perspective on the usefulness of coats of arms for historical research is encouraged by a misunderstanding of the work of heraldists whose studies are too often misread as contributions to historical research, missing the fact that their purpose is quite another one: the coats of arms as such. Accepting the fact that historians and heraldists are following different purposes, with different questions and methods of their own, a huge variety of collaboration is becoming a possibility.

This blog shall thus serve two purposes: On the one hand, it shall contribute to reveal the incredible potential of heraldic sources for modern approaches in historical science and help to put it to use. Hence, it shall offer a platform to scholars in social and cultural history to communicate and share ideas, inspirations and observations on this field and provide a place to advertise new initiatives, to present current projects and, above all, to read about and to discuss. But, on the other hand, it shall also be a place of exchange between historians and heraldists, benefitting from the respective competences of each other.

In all this, emphasis is put on the free flow of discussions and on the unlimited and unrestricted sharing of thoughts and ideas!

Everyone willing to support the objectives of the blog and to take part in the discussion is warmly welcomed to participate. For more information about the concept of the blog and how to contribute, please see the section “How to contribute …”.

Cite the article as: Torsten Hiltmann, "Welcome to the Blog: Let’s put a new light on medieval heraldry!", in: Heraldica nova. Medieval Heraldry in social and cultural-historical perspectives (blog on Hypotheses.org), published: 12/06/2013, Internet: http://heraldica.hypotheses.org/139.

Torsten Hiltmann

Torsten Hiltmann is Juniorprofessor for the High and Late Middle Ages and Auxiliary Sciences at the University of Münster. He is interested in new approaches to late medieval and early modern heraldry, the medieval notion of kingship and the methods and technologies of Digital Humanities. On hypotheses.org, he is maintaining, among others, the blog “Heraldica Nova”.

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