PRIVACY’s collaborative research programme is driven by a vision of an integrated interdisciplinary approach in which a team of scholars collaborate, challenge and inspire each other in a joint pursuit of the legislative, religious, social, cultural and architectural aspects of a shared set of cases.
PRIVACY’s scholarly potency stems from its pioneering site-based and interdisciplinary analysis.
PRIVACY aims to develop an interdisciplinary approach equipped to grasp, e.g., architectural, religious, legislative, political and educational demarcations of privacy in an integrated way. Shared responsibility across academic hierarchies is a token of PRIVACY’s vision for interactive research education.
The research team brings together extensive source expertise, familiarity with European archives, mastery of modern and ancient languages as well as field-inherent skills and approaches to privacy.
Architecture: Urban plans, buildings and rooms frame privacy, creating secrecy and shelter; chapels and cabinets stage prayer, study and intimacy, and are amplified by interiors and furnishing; alcove beds and privies (toilets) wall off bodily needs; rural retreat offset urban life.
Religious culture: Early Modern believers favour privacy (material and/or mental retreat) as a site for pious focus, and privacy is often presented as place particularly fit for prayer and insight. But privacy also evades control and prompts suspicion of heresy or sin, leading to efforts to regulate the private sphere by means of church discipline.
Law: Early Modern law defines conditions for property, sexual conduct, marriage, inheritance and rulers’ claims to their subjects’ work, property and lives (conscription, monopoly of violence within penal law).
History of Ideas: In Early Modern society, privacy is seen both as a threat and as a positive value. A new ideology of marriage and family favours intimacy and domesticity, but also enforces state and community control. In politics, privacy often equals secrecy: it is a latent threat to civic stability and vital for the ruler. Privacy can frame self-knowledge and liberty, but is also subject to strong regulation.
PRIVACY’s primary research focus rests with 11 cases. These cases are representative types chosen with a view to relevant sources and density of privacy issues. All cases exemplify urban plans and the exercise of political, legislative and religious power.
Chosen with a view to variables, the 11 cases cover key confessions (Anglican, Catholic, Jewish, Lutheran, Reformed) and civic settings (capitals, courts, provincial towns). They typify issues related to gender, authorities (local/national; religious/political), class, religion (reformation, conflict, cohabitation, atheism), education, geography (ports have special privacy issues related to commerce), key theoreticians (Hobbes, Conring, A. Smith) and civic ideals (the ‘pious realm’, ‘Enlightenment’). Such factors shape the esteem for – and distrust of – privacy together with, e.g., ideas of home and family, the emergence of the police, parish and state registers, freedom and constraints regarding property, belief, sexual conduct and bodily habits.
Each case is studied by a case-team, involving experts of architecture, religion, law and political ideas at all levels of scholarly maturity. The case-teams trawl letters, laws, political manuals, newspapers, sermons, architectural plans, diaries, contracts, community records for notions of privacy, hunting for indicators such as words with the root ‘priv-ʼ: in privato, privy, Privat-(person/andacht etc.), privauté etc. as well as boundaries drawn in relation to, e.g., confidentiality, security, family, body, self.
PRIVACY will generate a form of historical analysis fit to inform scientific approaches to current privacy issues. We aim to create durable scientific effects by mobilizing knowledge of historical notions of privacy as a resource for research on contemporary issues that require subtle responses beyond mere technology: handling of personal data, concerns with human integrity in health care or social seclusion et al.
This mobilization will be driven by extracts of insights into deep complexities in historical notions of privacy; e.g. tensions between global and local objectives, individuals’ obligation to several communities or fluid views of human dignity.
We test such extracts and their wider scientific potential at Challenge seminars, where PRIVACY’s team meet with invited experts for discussions of topics such as surveillance, privacy rights, medical ethics, work-life balance or social cohesion, to pose mutual research challenges.