Annual Lecture: Managing Memory: Tower Ball Deposits in the German Lands

3rd May 2018, Bateman Auditorium, Gonville & Caius College, 5-7pm

Professor Beat Kümin (University of Warwick)

Supported by the DAAD Cambridge Research Hub with funds from the German Federal Foreign Office (FFO)

From the late Middle Ages, chronicles and objects came to be placed in ‘tower balls’ appearing on top of church spires and other public buildings in the German lands. As deliberately chosen messages to posterity they provide tantalizing clues about what clergymen, lay officials and local communities considered ‘important’ and how they hoped to be remembered by later generations. Some places offer serial deposits covering several hundred years.

A closer engagement with the phenomenon promises new information about grass-roots interactions with political, social and religious change in periods like the Reformation, Thirty Years War or the Age of Revolutions. Alongside recent developments in memory studies, material culture research and communication science (to name but a few), it can open up fresh perspectives.

But first things first: where exactly can the custom be found, what did localities select to put in these – highly visible but normally inaccessible – spaces punctuating their skylines and what lines of investigation appear most rewarding? This lecture presents preliminary observations from an overview of the evidence surviving for present-day Austria, Germany and Switzerland.