Interdisciplinary Conference ‘Trust in the Premodern World’: An Overview

Written by Annabel Hancock (St John’s College, Oxford) 
Lead Organiser 


After over a year of preparation, the conference took place on 13-14th January 2023 in the Oxford History Faculty, and it was a great success! We were thrilled to welcome five eminent keynote speakers as well as 26 speakers and 20 attendees. Attendance was truly international with speakers from the US, Taiwan, Israel, Australia, The Netherlands, and Spain, to name a few places. There were also participants from a range of career stages with a large number of postgraduate students and ECRs speaking alongside renowned professors.  

The call for papers generated a much greater response than expected, from researchers at a variety of career stages and disciplines. While it led to greater organisational challenges, this led to the decision to run parallel sessions, allowing the acceptance of a greater number of papers and wider conversations. This meant we had panels which focused on trust as an emotion and experience, on trust and its relationship to power, to professions, in trade, credit, and debt relationships, and in spaces and systems.  

The keynote speakers acted perfectly to direct the focus of the conference and encourage wide-ranging discussions. Dr Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz (University of Amsterdam) started us off perfectly, thinking about generalised trust, encouraging us to think about how communities engage with trust in the common good in the medieval city. Professor Teresa Morgan (Yale Divinity School) then encouraged us to think about the ways in which language and meaning develops, showing how ideas of trust in Early Christian faith developed to relate to belief, redefining one’s relationship to God. Dr Nicholas Baker (Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia) then ended the first day perfectly. He showed us that the ways in which merchants thought about time in sixteenth century Italy was deeply complex, looking at the ways in which language related to trust and time expressed anxieties as well as positive hopes. Dr Antonella Liuzzo Scorpo (University of Lincoln) started day two with a look at trust as an emotion, specifically encouraging us to think about the ways in which women took part in the construction of trusted spaces in diplomacy in thirteenth-century Iberia. Our final keynote speaker, Professor Sheilagh Ogilvie (All Souls College, Oxford) delivered a paper encouraging us to think about the voices of premodern people and the ways theories of social capital/networks can hide the darker side of trust communities. She highlighted the ways in which economic approaches to trust can help us to look deeper into the ways in which communities functioned and encouraged us that as historians we have much to add to this conversation. 

Papers and keynote talks led to a great number of discussions and engagement with trust across a range of times and places. Perhaps one of the most exciting parts of many conversations was the realisation that though the 54 total participants all worked on varied times and places across the globe, and on various forms of trust, we all had knowledge and ideas that could be related it, and questions that could be the start of new ways of thinking.  

There is still much to think about and I know that all participants will be processing the discussions we had for a long time to come. Perhaps one of the main take aways at this early stage is the great power that comes with thinking about trust in the past. Through this focus, we can learn more about the economic, social, and cultural lives of people in premodern Europe, and consider the ways in which rationality and emotions are negotiated. 

The organising committee was thrilled to receive much positive feedback, including on social media, from attendees about the event and a great desire for conversations started at the event to continue. This will be an ongoing global network. 

This event would not have been possible without a great amount of support and encouragement from friends, colleagues, various members of the History Faculty admin team, and our generous sponsors. 

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