I began my academic studies in Tel-Aviv University and came to Oxford for a DPhil in History in 2005. I was then a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows from 2009 to 2012, when I took up my current position at the Faculty of History and at Hertford College.
Who preceded whom? Who wore what? Which form of address should one use? One of the most striking aspects of the early modern period is the crucial significance that contemporaries ascribed to such questions. In this hierarchical world, status symbols did not simply mirror a pre-defined social and political order; rather, they operated as a key tool for defining and redefining identities, relations, and power. Centuries later, scholars face the twofold challenge of
evaluating status interaction in an era where its open pursuit is no longer as widespread and legitimate, and of deciphering its highly sophisticated and often implicit codes. Status Interaction during the Reign of Louis XIV addresses this challenge by investigating status interaction - in dress as in address, in high ceremony and in everyday life - at one of its most important historical arenas: aristocratic society at the time of Louis XIV. By recovering actual practices on the ground based on a wide array of printed and manuscript sources, it transcends the simplistic view of a court revolving around the Sun King and reveals instead the multiple perspectives of contesting actors, stakes, and strategies. Demonstrating the wide-ranging implications of the phenomenon, macro-political as well as micro-political, this study provides a novel framework for understanding early modern action and agency.
My research and publications to date have largely focused on two broad themes at the intersection among political, social, and cultural history: symbolic interaction and writing practices. My first book, Status Interaction during the Reign of Louis XIV (OUP, 2014; pbk ed. 2016; shortlisted for the Royal History Society Gladstone Prize), investigates how and why individuals and groups expressed, shaped, and contested social positions in a variety of contexts, from high ceremonies to everyday routines. For contemporaries, status interaction operated as a key tool for defining and redefining identities, relations, and power; for scholars, it provides a novel lens for understanding early modern action and agency. The two themes combine in my work on correspondence, especially in my Past & Present article from 2009, which has offered a systematic framework for understanding letters as textual and material vehicles of status.
My current main research project, titled 'Writing Acts: The Power of Writing in the Ancien Régime' (under contract with Oxford University Press), explores the direct practical impact of manuscript forms in the social and political arenas. Its first major output appeared in The Journal of Modern History in 2013 (see Publications for further details).
The Monseigneur and the grands seigneurs: Questions of Priority in Early Modern France
The English Historical Review
Status Interaction During the Reign of Louis XIV
But status interaction was not a pastime or a matter of personal inclination. While protagonists and generations may change, the importance of symbolic markers for mediating social positions and tensions remained. When Louis XIV died...
Manipulating Information in the Ancien Regime: Ceremonial Records, Aristocratic Strategies and the Limits of the State Perspective
Journal of Modern History
Epistolary Ceremonial: Corresponding Status at the Time of Louis XIV
Past and Present: A Journal of Historical Studies
The post of marshal was the highest rank that a military career could offer in seventeenth-century France. But for a soldier who was not well versed in the hierarchical codes of the aristocracy, this high court office could prove to be a ceremonial nightmare. Nicolas Catinat, scion of a newly ennobled family, discovered that his extensive military experience was of no avail in Versailles. Following his elevation to the marshalate in spring 1693, Catinat immediately faced his first ceremonial challenge: to respond to the mountain of congratulatory letters that accumulated on his field desk. In so doing, the neophyte marshal had to make sense of how his newly acquired status affected the style of his correspondence. Which formulae should he adopt? How should he address the Vendôme brothers, descendants of Henry IV through a legitimated bastard line, who also happened to serve under his command? And how was his correspondence with the Secretary of State for War to be conducted henceforth? In a state of exasperation, Catinat turned to his brother Croisille, who was more versed in courtly etiquette. In a series of letters the new marshal expounded his epistolary dilemmas and urged his brother to help him. ‘I am much bothered about ceremonial’, he wrote to him in one letter; ‘I hope you will send me a reliable protocol in good form as soon as possible’, in another. In the meantime, however, he managed to make several blunders. On the one hand, some of his correspondents were offended by what seemed to them an unjustifiably imperious manner; on the other, some of his fellow marshals complained that his excessively deferential style failed to uphold the dignity of their rank.1
Catinat's predicament illustrates that, in the seventeenth century, epistolary ceremonial was no mere nicety. Endings were not always reducible …
Are formules de politesse Always Polite? The Bauffremont-Villars Incident, Discursice Struggles and Social Tensions under the Ancin Regime
The Race for the Mantle: Dress and Status at the Court of Louis XIV