Valentin Groebner

Valentin Groebner is professor of medieval and Renaissance history at the University of Lucerne. He is the author of Liquid Assets, Dangerous Gifts and Who Are You? Identification, Deception, and Surveillance in Early Modern Europe.

  • Who Are You?

    Who Are You?

    Identification, Deception, and Surveillance in Early Modern Europe

    Valentin Groebner

    The prehistory of modern passport and identification technologies: the documents, seals, and stamps, that could document and transform their owner's identity.

    Who are you? And how can you prove it? How were individuals described and identified in the centuries before photography and fingerprinting, in a world without centralized administrations, where names and addresses were constantly changing? In Who are You?, Valentin Groebner traces the early modern European history of identification practices and identity papers. The documents, seals, stamps, and signatures were—and are—powerful tools that created the double of a person in writ and bore the indelible signs of bureaucratic authenticity. Ultimately, as Groebner lucidly explains, they revealed as much about their makers' illusory fantasies as they did about their bearers' actual identity. The bureaucratic desire to register and control the population created, from the sixteenth century onward, an intricate administrative system for tracking individual identities. Most important, the proof of one's identity was intimately linked and determined by the identification papers the authorities demanded and endlessly supplied. Ironically, these papers and practices gave birth to two uncanny doppelgängers of administrative identity procedures: the spy who craftily forged official documents and passports, and the impostor who dissimulated and mimed any individual he so desired. Through careful research and powerful narrative, Groebner recounts the complicated and bizarre stories of the many ways in which identities were stolen, created, and doubled. Groebner argues that identity papers cannot be interpreted literally as pure and simple documents. They are themselves pieces of history, histories of individuals and individuality, papers that both document and transform their owner's identity—whether carried by Renaissance vagrants and gypsies or the illegal immigrants of today who remain "sans papier," without papers.

    • Hardcover $32.95 £28.00
  • Defaced

    Defaced

    The Visual Culture of Violence in the Late Middle Ages

    Valentin Groebner

    Understanding late medieval pictorial representations of violence.

    Destroyed faces, dissolved human shapes, invisible enemies: violence and anonymity go hand in hand. The visual representation of extreme physical violence makes real people nameless exemplars of horror—formless, hideous, defaced. In Defaced, Valentin Groebner explores the roots of the visual culture of violence in medieval and Renaissance Europe and shows how contemporary visual culture has been shaped by late medieval images and narratives of violence. For late medieval audiences, as with modern media consumers, horror lies less in the "indescribable" and "alien" than in the familiar and commonplace. From the fourteenth century onward, pictorial representations became increasingly violent, whether in depictions of the Passion, or in vivid and precise images of torture, execution, and war. But not every spectator witnessed the same thing when confronted with terrifying images of a crucified man, misshapen faces, allegedly bloodthirsty conspirators on nocturnal streets, or barbarian fiends on distant battlefields. The profusion of violent imagery provoked a question: how to distinguish the illegitimate violence that threatened and reversed the social order from the proper, "just," and sanctioned use of force? Groebner constructs a persuasive answer to this question by investigating how uncannily familiar medieval dystopias were constructed and deconstructed. Showing how extreme violence threatens to disorient, and how the effect of horror resides in the depiction of minute details, Groebner offers an original model for understanding how descriptions of atrocities and of outrageous cruelty depended, in medieval times, on the variation of familiar narrative motifs.

    • Hardcover $22.95 £18.99
    • Paperback $22.95 £18.99