Genealogical forests.The order and presentation of knowledge in universal genealogical handbooks in 17th-century Germany

Johann Georg Lairitz: Neu=angelegter
Historisch=Genealogischer Palm=Wald […].
Nürnberg 1686, Kupfertitel [HAB: Ff 4° 58]

The political, social and cultural order of early modern Europe was to a large extent determined bythe princely dynasties and their mutual relationships. Contemporary genealogy reproduced this structure and developed into an indispensable field of knowledge with which every member of the ruling elites had to be familiar. It produced an abundance of pictures and texts on the descent and kinship of the ruling houses. The project analyses an important part of this literature, i.e the universal handbooks that register in print most dynasties, or at least the most prominent - a genre that came into being in the late 16th, and developed throughout the whole of the 17th century. The study is restricted to the Holy Roman Empire, which results in a corpus of approximately 70 relevant titles, many of them consisting of several volumes.

The main reason for the choice of this subject can be explained as follows: Whereas particular genealogies dealing with individual houses very often suffered from a lack of reliable information and therefore resorted to filling the gaps with imaginary and mythical ancestors, universal genealogies had the opposite problem: They had to deal with an information overflow, and therefore problems of selection, order, presentation and communication of genealogical knowledge played an important role. And moreover the authors of these handbooks had to cope with the fact that their decision on how to organize their material also had political implications, e.g. to the rank they seemed to ascribe to the respective dynasties. The organization of political rule and genealogical data were closely linked.

The project focuses on the formal, paratextual, and textual features and on the contemporary use of these publications. It is based on the assumption that the genre underwent a fundamental evolution during the 17th century: The format of the works changed from bulky volumes to portable reference books, their main function was no more to guarentee princely memory but rather to supply news, and the purely genealogical view on princely rule was supplemented by other political data.


Volker BauerWurzel, Stamm, Krone. Fürstliche Genealogie in frühneuzeitlichen Druckwerken. Ausstellungskataloge der Herzog August Bibliothek 97(Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2013).
Catalogue  HAB Publications


Contact: Dr. Volker Bauer