Boozing with Scholars. On friends, enemies and “other friends“ in the early modern period
What friendships are in practice can best be discerned from the typical behaviors we associate with friendship. Scholars, in invoking their friendship, often drank together at home, in the pub, during visits, or whenever an occasion offered itself. Yet we shouldn’t have the distorted image of a beer-filled past. Nor was their friendship the cement that held them together. Far from being unifying, liberating, and equalizing, friendship often had a corrosive, fragmenting effect, creating hierarchies of power more characteristic of enmity than affection.
This talk discusses the friendships of English, French, and German scholars in the 17th and 18th centuries as they drank together and occasionally met with other friends. They made tough moves and trades—as if at a marketplace—and drinking only facilitated the transactions. The brutal honesty of these practices brought people together more than the gentle brutality of polite discourses on friendship could.
Sebastian Kühn is a historian at the University of Hanover, where he has worked since 2013 on a DFG project about servants at court. For his dissertation, which appeared in 2011 under the title Wissen, Arbeit, Freundschaft: Ökonomie und soziale Beziehungen in den Akademien von London, Paris und Berlin um 1700, he received the Friedrich Meinecke Prize and the Ernst Reuter Prize. He studies the history of the early modern era, the history of anthropology, social history, the cultural history of politics, and the history of scholarly culture. His other publications include “Feindschaft in der Gelehrtenkultur der Frühen Neuzeit” (WerkstattGeschichte, 2011) and “Konflikt und Freundschaft in der gelehrten Kommunikation um 1700” (Kommunikation der Frühen Neuzeit, 2009).