Airspace and Society in Early Modern Europe

With the rise of global history, historians have continuously expanded the spatial scope of their studies in a horizontal movement. In recent decades, however, a growing body of literature has begun to discuss the human exploration of the atmosphere and outer space in a distinctly vertical dynamic. A widespread assumption in this literature is that the history of airspace begins with the history of aviation. This project combines archival and computational research to show that the human engagement with airspace has a longer history.

New Maps for the Old Regime

with research assistance from Elizabeth Lindqwister (Stanford), Madison Coots (Stanford), and David Mollenkamp (Stanford)

This project uses geospatial and distant reading approaches to gain a more appropriate understanding of early modern political geography, to retrace the ways in which goods and people travelled through the physical landscape, and to uncover broad spatial and temporal trends in intellectual history. Currently, our main focus is on mapping and interpreting broad shifts and patterns in early modern petitions and academic dissertations, the sheer quantity of which defies a close reading of the sources.

Mapping the Customs

CostCorridorCost-distance corridor with the main trade routes between Nuremberg and Leipzig and average customs revenues between 1469 and 1550. The map shows that the costliest route (in terms of distance and slope) attracted more traffic than the less costly routes, which raises questions about what determined pre-modern patterns of mobility.

Polygons and the Geography of Serfdom

The following two maps are part of a broader analysis and critique of the polygon as the main vector data model for representing political entities in spatial history.

Number of foreign subjects enserfed by the Electors Palatine in 1665. The map shows that the spatial extent of the Palatine incursions in the neighboring territories were much more limited than previously assumed (the light grey area).

Terrain.pngThe elevation profile of the region shows that most of the serfs lived in the Rhine Rift Valley and in Rhenish Hesse, areas with fertile soils and a warm climate. The villages in these areas were easily accessible and more densely populated, offering a larger tax base.

Legal Study in German Universities

The following graphs study the language used in the titles of more than ten thousand legal dissertations defended at German universities during the seventeenth century. They are part of an ongoing project that explores broader temporal and spatial shifts in early modern legal and intellectual history.

Religious LanguageThis graphs highlights the rise of religious language – i.e. the relative frequency of words like religio or charitas – which points to an increasing “juridification” of religious matters in the wake of the Thirty Years’ War.

Roman Law

This visualisation captures the decreasing relative frequency with which students worked on classic texts of Roman Law, such as the pandectae or digesta, at a time at which jurists began to pay increasing attention to customary and natural law.


This graph shows the decreasing relative number of students who worked on usucapio, i.e. the acquisition of ownership through possession (similar to squatting). In a society where landowners and princes often lacked formal titles of ownership, usucapio was a crucial mechanism for securing the political and economic status quo. The decreasing interest in usucaption could point to changes in the ways in which power and property were challenged and defended in the course of the seventeenth century.

Early Modern Mobility: Knowledge, Communication, and Transportation

Supported with 100,000 $ from the UPS Endowment Fund and Stanford’s Program in History and Philosophy of Science, this collaborative project investigates the history of postal systems, roads, transportation, and communication infrastructure in early modern Europe.

with Paula Findlen (Stanford), Katherine McDonough (London), Rachel Midura (Stanford), Suzanne Sutherland (Murfreesboro), and Iva Lelková (Prague)

Past Projects

The Enclosure of Movement

My first book, The Enclosure of Movement (forthcoming with Oxford University Press), retraces the history of the modern state’s grasp over flows of goods and people, particularly during the early modern period. After having dug through more than twenty archives between the Alps and the North Sea, I am able to show how travelers, jurists and officials negotiated passage and obstruction on the roads and rivers of the Old Reich, one of the pre-modern world’s most fragmented regions. I do this with particular reference to safe-conduct, that is, the quasi-sovereign right to escort travelers and to levy duties on passing goods and people. My book challenges conventional conceptions of pre-modern statehood, and offers a new account of how modern states claimed and disputed rights of passage.

Justifying Serfdom

This project examined justifications for and understandings of serfdom in the early modern Holy Roman Empire with particular reference to the Wildfang dispute between 1650 and 1669. Between the German Peasants’ Wars of the sixteenth and the ‘peasant liberation’ in the nineteenth century, this dispute was the only occasion on which a form of serfdom became a matter of wide public debate in the German lands. My research explored how advocates and opponents of serfdom used historical narratives, spatial framing, and the language of freedom to justify or reject serfdom.