Concept of the field

Our teaching and research focuses mainly on (gender-specific) questions regarding German and European cultural and social history as well as the history of ideas between 1600 and 1800. The following areas are of major interest: history of war and violence, body history, history of medicine, history of mentalities, history of everyday life (microhistory), as well as mechanisms of genesis and transfer of knowledge.

Research Projects

Prof. Dr. Maren Lorenz

  • Proto-Eugenic thought in Germany, France and the USA (1750-1870) - About the relationship between knowledge transfer and state utopia
    After a period of waning academic interest in the history of ideas, investigations of the intersections between formulations of moral and legal normativity and scientific standardization are now enjoying renewed attention among researchers. Unlike the common notion of reproductive politics and reproductive health care as a phenomenon of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, concepts of ‘human breeding’ and various ways of ‘birth control’ were developed in Western Europe since the middle of the 18th century. The project will focus on such concepts of "meliorism" (i.e., human improvement as a metaphysical goal given by nature that had to be deliberately fostered). Based on case studies and tracts dealing with ‘medical police’ and ‘medical hygiene’, scientific and economic experts as well as ‘Literaten’ of the German-speaking lands discussed problems such as the hereditary transmission of disabilities and diseases, and demanded the implementation of state protective laws in a variety of scientific and non scientific scholarly journals (“Gelehrte Journale”). In the forefront of the French Revolution especially French and German public servants developed concrete concepts for a strictly state controlled marriage policy. ‘Female stud farms’ in the manner of livestock breeders to enhance not only the ‘quantity’ but also the ‘quality’ of their countries’ population were part of such plans as well as forced selective breeding to produce pain resistant soldiers or robust agricultural laborers. The focus of the first part of the study will be upon the reception and transformation of such ideas between French and German scholars of various professions, primarily surgeons, physicians, and the (new academic) field of governance (“Cameralists”). In particular the project will address their utilitaristic perspective and its religious/ethic limitations on the range of legal means to promote the welfare of their respective states.
    The second part of the project will focus on the transfer of such discourses to the USA. Academic writings as well as pamphlets and popular books like marriage manuals and domestic advisors dealing with the medicalization of demography and human reproduction enjoyed public success among the white middle class between the 1830s and 1860s. A variety of phreonologists as well as uniquely American Christian-utopian communities even experimented with ideas of selective breeding and reflected severely about the quality of "parental stock".
    By examining scientific publications as well as popular and literary contributions ranging from the second half of the 18th century to mid 19th century the study explores the close entanglement of science, society, law, and nation building.


Dr. Muriel González

  • European Geographies at the end of the Early Modern Period. Techniques of Construction

    In current debates on Europe, which among others, are related to the financial and political crisis, the European Union oftentimes is characterized as a community of shared values and a homogenous legal and economic space. This characterization is based on a geographical conception of Europe as a spatial unity, which is rarely questioned. The current project is concerned with this assumed geographical unity or the cartographic production of this entity.
    Already in ancient times, there existed practices of graphical production of the world in the form of maps and atlases. Until today they undoubtedly represent powerful tools for the construction of ideas of order and visual appropriations. Political and exemplary pictorial orders always have been opposing each other.
    The project deals with these ideas and the construction of spatial notions of Europe. It will focus on the physical and intellectual genesis of Europe during the eighteenth century in its geographical and pictorial dimension as well as on the mediality of maps in general.
    The key assumption of the project is that between 1790 and 1860 in Western Europe, a geographically based spatialization of thinking and perception became prevalent, that came to be expressed in maps. Furthermore, I claim that these new graphic objects or media powerfully engaged in the reception and production of Eurocentric ideas of space. The analysis is based on an investigation of historical discourses on the production of maps, e.g. of instructions for the production of maps (cultural techniques). Cartography will be analyzed as a cultural technique that functions as a recursive network, in which processes and actors of map production are part of a permanent process of its constitution.