The blog Heraldica Nova was founded in 2013 by Torsten Hiltmann as part of the Dilthey-Project ‘The Performance of Coats of Arms’. This project, funded by the VolkswagenFoundation’s and Fritz Thyssen Foundation’s initiative ‘Focus on the Humanities’, and based at the University of Münster, aims to study heraldry from the perspective of cultural history.
Coats of arms were everywhere
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 twelfth-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.
Lack of historical research
It is astonishing that their ubiquity in medieval and early modern communication notwithstanding, academic historians have paid little attention to heraldic sources. However, as an important part of late medieval and early modern culture, deeply shaping its mentalities and practices, the study of heraldic sources could offer highly innovative insights into late medieval and early modern culture and society, including 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.
Goal of the blog
This blog shall serve several purposes. 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. Further, it shall be a place of exchange between historians and heraldists, offering the chance to benefit from the respective competences of each other. It shall also help scholars who wish to study heraldry from a cultural-historical perspective by providing practical tools, interesting links and resourceful databases.
In all this, emphasis is put on the free flow of discussions and on the unlimited and unrestricted sharing of thoughts and ideas!
If you have any comments, ideas on how to improve this blog or do want to contribute, do not hesitate to contact us!