Gustavs Strenga’s New Monograph on Collective Memory in Medieval Livonia Receives AABS Book Publication Subvention

Aug 2, 2021

The AABS Board is pleased to announce that Brepols Publishers has been awarded the AABS Book Publication Subvention for publishing “Remembering the Dead: Collective Memory and Commemoration in Late Medieval Livonia.” The book, authored by Latvian historian Gustavs Strenga, highlights the importance of memoria  – commemoration of the dead – as a form of collective memory for different groups and institutions in late medieval Livonia (modern day Latvia and Estonia).

Gustavs Strenga. ©Jānis Porietis, 2021.

Gustavs Strenga is a historian and researcher at the University of Greifswald. He is also affiliated with the National Library of Latvia where he has been active as a senior researcher and exhibition curator. Gustavs has received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Latvia (2004), Master’s degree in Medieval studies from the Central European University (2006) and defended his PhD Thesis at the Queen Mary University of London (2014). Gustavs has been fellow (2009-2012) at the PhD research group (GRK 1288) “Friends, Patrons, Clients” at the University of Freiburg and a post-doc research fellow (2018-2020) at the Tallinn University. Gustavs’ main research interests are the history of medieval Livonia, memory studies, gift-giving as a historical phenomenon, and book history. At the University of Greifswald he is part of the project funded by the German Research Foundation, “Saints and Heroes from Christianization to Nationalism: Symbol, Image, Memory (Nord-West Russia, Baltic and Nordic countries)” (in cooperation with the St. Petersburg State University).

Medieval memoria – commemoration of the dead – was both a form of collective memory and a social practice that was present in every sphere of life and a religious practice that helped to gain salvation for the deceased. Commemoration of the dead shaped identities and constituted groups, thus the research of commemorative practices can tell a lot about medieval communities. This study reveals importance of memoria as a form of collective memory for different groups and institutions: urban government and guilds, the Teutonic Order, bishops and cathedral chapters, and monastic communities, in late medieval Livonia (modern day Latvia and Estonia). Livonia was Christianized during the thirteenth century and rapidly woven in the fabric of medieval European culture and the historiographical narratives of this period represented collective memory of multiple Livonian communities. The book will also discuss how the collective memories of the groups featured changed during the Reformation when the liturgical commemoration was abolished, but the dead were still remembered.
The study of the collective memory of these Livonian social groups reveals how they cared for the remembering of their past and used memories of distant events and ancient dead in political conflicts. In Livonia since the late thirteenth century there was a long-lasting political rivalry between the Teutonic Order and the Church of Riga (the archbishop and the cathedral chapter) that ended only in the late fifteenth century. This rivalry that in some moments erupted into physical violence, can be described as a rivalry of memories, historical narratives, and the burial grounds. The memory of the dead leaders – the founding bishops – Meinhard, Berthold, and Albert – and the Masters of the Order – legitimized power of their successors in the present, thus the dead, their physical remains and their deeds were a valuable asset. The book features commemorative practices and collective memory of the urban elite groups that possessed political and economic power – the merchant guilds and brotherhoods – in Riga and Tallinn.
The tomb (14th c./ reconstructed 19th c.) of the first Livonian bishop Meinhard (+1196) in the Riga cathedral. Photo from the National Library of Latvia, collection Zudusī Latvija.
“This book is a contribution to the research of the Baltic history, revealing different aspects of medieval social, cultural, and political history through the perspective of remembering the past.”
Medieval Livonia was a province in which after the Christianization the elites were the Middle Low German speaking immigrants from the Northern Germany and the indigenous population (would-be Latvians and Estonians, and Livs) composed urban lower classes and peasantry. There are no surviving written sources that testify about commemorative practices of the peasantry. Yet the source material from the late medieval Riga sheds light on the commemorative practices of the urban groups in which majority of the members were of the indigenous descent. The study of the remembrance of these groups – the transport workers’ guilds – has a central and prominent place in this book.
Annals of Dünamunde (Daugavgrīva), mid-14th c., Tallinn City Archives, TLA, f. 230, n. 1, Cm 8, fol. 29v.

This book focuses on the commemoration of the dead and collective memories of several social groups, yet the book is a social history of late medieval Livonia that reveals the identities of groups and their relationships. This book is a contribution to the research of the Baltic history, revealing different aspects of medieval social, cultural, and political history through the perspective of remembering the past.

What is AABS book Publication Subvention?

The AABS awards its Book Publication Subvention of up to $5,000 for individually authored books, edited volumes, and multiple-authored books in English that make a substantial scholarly contribution to Baltic Studies. The applications must be submitted by publishers, not authors. Priority will be given to single author’s first monographs.

AABS awards two Book Publication Subventions each year. Applications may be submitted for review anytime, on a rolling basis.

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