PRIVACY Lecture: Privacy and Concurrence of Norms in the ‚Age of Ambiguity‘

Abstract by Professor Hillard von Thiessen

The Center for Privacy Studies examines how notions of privacy and the private shape relations between individuals and society in the early modern period. Partially, privacy may be regarded as the place of an individual in the social sphere – not yet (theoretically) secluded from the public world, but already constituting a field of action with particulars values, norms and rules. The lecture will contextualize the notions, the significance and the dynamics of social norms in early modern latin-Christian societies. In those societies, normative demands were aimed at individuals with increasing vigour from a variety of authorites: the church, the secular authorities, and social groups like the family, the neighbourhood, the guild, the peer group and so on. It will be discussed how early modern individuals navigated in such a demanding and complex normative field, in which occasions and with what arguments individuals were in the position to fend off certain normative demands, how social as well as religious and political dynamics were set off and how cultural ambiguity came out as a – wílly-nilly and precarious – result of the concurrence and competition of norms.


Hillard von Thiessen studied at the Universities of Kiel, Edinburgh and Freiburg, where he was awarded a doctoral degree with a dissertation on the Capuchins between confessionalization and popular culture in the early modern period in two German cities. Since 2000, one of his topics of investigation is the history of foreign relations in the early modern period with particular regard to the approaches of New Diplomatic History. After having obtained the habilitation degree at the University of Berne in 2007 with a study on diplomacy and patronage, he worked as substitute professor for Early modern history at the University of Cologne, until he was appointed professor for Early modern history at the University of Rostock in 2013. Currently, his principle field of research is the history of norms and values in premodern Europe. With regard to this topic, he published the monograph Das Zeitalter der Ambiguität. Vom Umgang mit Werten und Normen in der Frühen Neuzeit (The Age of Ambiguity. On Norms and Values in the Early Modern Period) in 2021.