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Symposium: Clandestine Communications in Early Modern England

6th March 2015 @ 2:15 pm - 5:30 pm

The art of letter writing and the letter as material object in early modern England have recently been the subject of increasing scholarly attention. This growing interest in letters may stem from its potential as a fruitful source of academic enquiry, especially given the broad social and cultural significance of letter writing in early modern England. Perhaps because of its very nature, one particularly fascinating and understudied form of the early modern letter has not received the attention it deserves: the secret letter. By analysing the diverse ways in which messages could be conveyed secretly from one person to another, it becomes possible to track clandestine ways of communication in the early modern period.

This half-day symposium will cover the art of secret communications in early modern England, ranging from the smuggling of letters, invisible ink and cipher codes, to methods of securing letters. Dr Nadine Akkerman (Leiden University) will start off the afternoon with her paper entitled ‘Early Modern ‘Aesthetics of Enigma’: The Hidden Function of Codes, Ciphers, and Invisible Inks’, followed by a Q&A session. After a short coffee break, Jana Dambrogio (MIT) and Dr Daniel Starza Smith (Oxford) will teach a two hour workshop on historic letter-locking, during which different techniques of built-in security devices in letters will be explained. Symposium attendees are invited to unlock, and subsequently fold and lock their own letters, following in the footsteps of (amongst others) Elizabeth I and her spymasters.

This CREMS event will take place on March 6 2015, 2:15 – 5:30pm, in Law 1.12 on Queen Mary’s Mile End Campus. Free tickets can be acquired on a first come first served basis, via https://eventbrite.co.uk/event/15637339704/


Dr Nadine Akkerman is lecturer in early modern literature at Leiden University. She is currently finishing the NWO-funded project ‘Female Spies or ‘she-intelligencers’: Towards a Gendered History of Seventeenth-Century Espionage’.  She is the author of The Correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia (OUP, 3 vols, 1 published to date and another appearing this April) and co-editor of The Politics of Female Households: Ladies-in-Waiting across Early Modern Europe (Brill, 2013). This year her popular history book Courtly Rivals accompanies an exhibition in The Hague under the same name.

Jana Dambrogio has studied and conserved library collections and archival holdings for the National Archives and Records Administration, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and the Vatican Secret Archives. A recipient of the Booth Family Rome Prize in historic preservation and conservation at the American Academy in Rome, she is currently the Thomas F. Peterson (1957) Conservator for special collections in the Curation and Preservation Services Department of the MIT Libraries.

Dr Daniel Starza Smith is British Academy post-doctoral fellow and Oakeshott JRF at Lincoln College, Oxford. His post-doctoral research focuses on the women patrons of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English literature, particularly those addressed in the poetry and prose of John Donne (1572–1631). Daniel is the author of the recently published John Donne and the Conway Papers (OUP, 2014), and co-editor, with Joshua Eckhardt, of Manuscript Miscellanies in Early Modern England (Ashgate, 2014).


6th March 2015
2:15 pm - 5:30 pm


Laws 1.12
Queen Mary University of London E1 4NS