Project Launched!

In October 2018, the Changing Social Representations of Political Order project officially began. In this first blog, we provide an overview to the project, its members, and its aims.

In October 2018 the Changing Social Representations of Political Order project officially began. Supported by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) and based at the University of Innsbruck, the project will create a critical online edition of the letters of Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples from 1768 to 1814, with her brother Emperor Leopold II, nephew/son-in-law Emperor Franz II/I, and daughter Empress Marie Therese.


The project team consists of three researchers under the direction of Professor Ellinor Forster: Dr. Jonathan Singerton, Mag. Govanni Merola, and Mag.a Anne-Sophie Dénoue, who introduce themselves in the next blog post. They receive the technical support of Dr. Joseph Wang, who leads the designing of the online edition and corresponding database.


The letters of Maria Carolina and her relatives contain a rich commentary not only about late eighteenth-century Naples-Sicily but also about the reforms in Leopold’s Tuscany, the international fight against Napoleon, and the wider upheavals of the turbulent Age of Revolutions. Researchers will be able to read through the transcribed letters via an online database that will also allow a full-text search and will include a complete index of names, places, and categories.


The categories featured in the database will highlight common passages within the letters that deal with key themes such as reforms, the Enlightenment, emotions, weather, child-raising and so on. We anticipate that this categorical breakdown will enable researchers using the online edition to study these letters to an unprecedented level of insight.


Apart from delivering the database, the project team are also working on an analysis of the letters which focuses on Serge Moscovici’s notion of ‘social representation.’ This concept refers to the shared ideas of a social group, which experience changes over time and can be investigated through the use of language.


We are particularly interested in following how Maria Carolina and her relatives navigated their lives during the turbulent Age of Revolutions. They shared candid discussions about contemporary events in their correspondence, weighing the risks of their judgements and consoling or berating each other over ill-made decisions.


Maria Carolina’s personal correspondence, therefore, allows us to see how ruler’s developed coping strategies for the revolutionary turbulence around them as well as to be able to discern their shifting values and beliefs in ideal governance. We can ask what ideals did rulers such as Maria Carolina surrender or abandon? What ideals did they preserve at all costs? In what ways did their ideals change? How did the idealistic vision of enlightened rule fare in a revolutionary crucible?


We have begun an ambitious project to answer these questions, to reveal the richness of these letters as a source for other scholars, and to illuminate our understanding of one of Europe’s most formidable Queens.


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