I am a digital historian who applies computational methods to the study of European history. Methodologically, I am particularly interested in geospatial analysis, historical data visualisation, and distant reading. Thematically, my work often revolves around past efforts to contain uncontainable forces such as human mobility or the weather.
My first book, Borders and Freedom of Movement in the Holy Roman Empire (Oxford University Press, 2020), is a history of free movement in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, one of the most politically fractured landscapes in European 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.
Building on statistical, geospatial, and computational training I received at Heidelberg, Columbia, and Stanford, my research has taken a digital turn. I am interested in how scholars use digital data and methods to craft novel, meaningful, and ambitious 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 create, explore, and compare geospatial data with the critical, experimental, 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 that project questions the use of polygons to represent political entities in spatial history. More recently, I have developed an interest in verticality. One characteristic of the spatial humanities is that they sustain a horizontal vision of space. Not unlike geopolitics, their’s is a flat discourse. I am interested in how geospatial technology allows us to engage with depth and altitude and represent volumes rather than areas. For my next larger project, I combine meteorological and climatological data with more conventional sources to gain a better understanding of the history of severe weather and climate variability.
Another strand of my research concerns the application of digital distant reading approaches to conceptual and intellectual history. I currently study thematic and methodological trends in several tens of thousands of dissertations defended at early modern German universities. A first article on legal dissertations of the seventeenth century has recently been published. I am also contributing to developing a large-scale computational study of the language of early capitalism. 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 in 2021. Moreover, I initiated and co-host a podcast series, New Work in Digital Humanities, that offers a platform for some of the best recent work in the field.
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 and late 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 currently direct the Digital Humanities program at Manchester.
I am a Lecturer (Assistant Professor) 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.