I am a scholar of European and digital history who is particularly involved in the relationship of political authority and human mobility, interactions with and perceptions of the atmosphere, and the use of geospatial and computational methods to study the past.
My first book, Borders and Freedom of Movement in the Holy Roman Empire (Oxford University Press, 2020), tells the history of free movement in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, one of the most fractured landscapes in human history. Across the Empire, mobile populations—from emperors to peasants—defied attempts to channel their mobility with actions ranging from mockery to bloodshed. My book charts this contentious ordering of movement through the lens of safe conduct, an institution that was common throughout the early modern world but became a key framework for negotiating freedom of movement and its restriction in the Old Reich. It draws on sources discovered in twenty archives, from newly unearthed drawings to first-hand accounts by peasants, princes, and prisoners. The maps I designed shift the focus from the border to the thoroughfare to show that controls of moving goods and people were rarely concentrated at borders before the mid-eighteenth century. Uncovering a forgotten chapter in the history of free movement, the book presents a new look at the unstable relationship of political authority and human mobility in the heartlands of old-regime Europe.
In addition to my monograph I published English, German, French, and Italian articles and chapters on the history of passports, on how serfdom was justified in the seventeenth century, and on the politics of protection.
Designing my own maps led me to appreciate the potential of argument-driven digital research. Building on statistical, geospatial, and computational training I received at Heidelberg, Columbia, and Stanford, my research has taken on a digital dimension. I am excited about how historians use the digitally exploitable data available today to craft novel, ambitious, and impactful arguments that contribute to broader conversations within history, the humanities, and the social sciences.
Within the digital humanities, my primary expertise lies in spatial history. Spatial questions loom large in some of the most exciting recent historical scholarship, but this renewed interest has not resulted in a renaissance of the map as a tool of research. Combining an unparalleled ability to digitally explore, create, and compare geospatial data with the experimental, innovative, and design-oriented ethos of the digital humanities, spatial history has much to contribute to filling this gap. At Stanford, I led the digital mapping project “New Maps for the Old Regime” within the Spatial History Project, using GIS to create new maps of old-regime Europe. Several of these maps have been published in my first book. Another recent article coming out of my project questions the use of polygons to represent political entities in spatial history. Together with colleagues at Stanford and other institutions, I also won a substantial grant for a collaborative digital history project on mobility in the early modern world. The project will culminate in an international conference at Stanford once the pandemic is over.
More recently, I have developed an interest in verticality. One characteristic of spatial history is that it sustains a horizontal vision of space. Not unlike geopolitics, it is a flat discourse. I am interested in how computation allows us to engage with depth and altitude and represent volumes rather than areas. I aim to promote a topographic rather than a topological vision of space, that is a vision focused on the data’s relation to the physical and social environment rather than simply on its geometric arrangement. Moreover, I am interested in how history can be written using atmospheric, subaqueous and subterranean data.
Another strand of my research concerns the application of distant reading methodologies—from topic modeling to word vectors—to legal and conceptual history. As part of this work, I currently study thematic and methodological trends in several tens of thousands of dissertations defended at early modern German universities.
I have designed and taught numerous lecture and seminar classes for undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students at Manchester, Stanford, Berlin, and Florence, on different aspects of early modern history, on spatial history and on the digital humanities. I also acted as co-director of Stanford’s Digital Humanities Graduate Fellowship Program and am currently the director of the Digital Humanities program at Manchester.
I am currently a Lecturer in Digital Humanities at the University of Manchester. I earned a PhD in History at the European University Institute in Florence, an MA in History at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris and the University of Heidelberg, as well as a BA in Economics at the latter university. Before moving to England, I held a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at Stanford University from 2016 to 2019. I have also taught at the Free University of Berlin and have been a visiting scholar at the University of Saint Andrews and at Columbia University.