Marginalised Voices and Figures in French Festival Culture, 1500–1800
The last few decades have seen a marked increase in early modern festival research. From royal coronations and ceremonial entries to court ballets and investitures of popes and cardinals, such events were important expressions of courtly, civic, and ecclesiastical hierarchy, community, and tradition. Between 1500 and 1800, France was one of the most prolific and influential centers of festival art in Europe. Indeed, French ‘inventions’ such as the court ballet (ballet de cour), the equestrian carousel, and the comédie-ballet were imitated and emulated across the continent.
However, research on French festival culture has typically focused on traditional centers of power like the royal court, and has either highlighted the contributions of well-known poets, painters, and dance masters or concentrated on the responses of elite spectators like foreign diplomats, princes, and nobles. Our conference instead seeks to shift the focus towards marginalised voices and figures, among them:
- Lesser-known musicians, choreographers, poets, and artists who have been overlooked in conventional histories of music, literature, and the arts, namely because they do not conform to narratives of great composers/musicians, poets, and artists, despite being critical to the production and performance of French festivals.
- Non-elite people, such as artisans and merchants, who were crucial to the production of festivals, or members from the urban population, who were regularly part of audiences for civic festivities in France, such as ceremonial entries and equestrian carousels.
- ‘Subaltern’ people, among them women, ethnic and confessional minorities, queer audiences, and colonial populations, who were often involved in the production and performance of French festivals or attended them in person.
Our conference is interested in both what French festival culture during the period 1500–1800 reveals about these figures, and what this investigation tells us about early modern society on a more global level. What insights does the non-elite or subaltern status of festival contributors offer into early modern perceptions of the arts? What do French festivals tell us about other groups who were generally excluded or oppressed in society? How should we understand the frequent tension between emphasising and erasing the foreign ‘other’ (like the participation of colonial subjects, the use of blackface for racial stereotyping, or the cultural appropriation of valuable colonial objects, etc.)?
The organisers are keen to encourage an interdisciplinary approach to this subject matter, assembling a balance of musicologists, historians, and scholars in other fields to create a forum for productive exchange. We particularly welcome applications from under-represented groups in academia, such as women, BAME, and LGBTQ+ communities.
We would be interested in any papers that address the following topics:
- Investigations of musicians, artists, choreographers, poets, and other festival contributors who have been marginalised in conventional histories of early modern arts.
- Analysis of individual festivals, theatrical performances, or ceremonies that involved and/or represented marginalised voices and figures.
- Diachronic studies on the involvement and/or representation of marginalised voices and figures.
- Research on cultural and diplomatic exchanges between traditional centres of power and commonly marginalised communities, such as colonial populations and confessional minorities. This may include transnational and global approaches to French festival culture.
If you would like to propose a 20-minute paper, please send a brief abstract of about 250 words to marginalisedvoicesconf@
Our twitter handle is @marginalisedvo1.
Marc W. S. Jaffré (University of Oxford), Bram van Leuveren (University of St Andrews), and Alexander Robinson (King’s College London).
This event is generously supported by the Royal Musical Association and The Society for the Study of French History.
Please note: depending on how the current Covid-19 situation unfolds, this conference may ultimately be scheduled online (e.g. via Microsoft Teams).