Research Projects of Prof. Dr. Zwierlein
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Current projects

- Fruits of Migration. Heterodox Italian migrants and Central European Culture 1550-1620 (Workshop and volume with Brill, series Intersections)
- Engl. Translation of ´The tamed Prometheus´ (West Virginia University Press)
- 2018-2021 Close Distance. A History of Knowledge of European Merchant Colonies in the Levant, 17th to 19th century (Heisenberg Fellowship, DFG, University Bamberg)

New Conference Project



Sponsored by the Harvard History Department, the Harvard German department, the German Science Foundation (DFG) and the Henkel foundation (Düsseldorf), an interdisciplinary two-place conference on Historicizing Ignorance in Late Medieval and Early Modern History will take place at Harvard University, Robinson Hall and the German Historical Institute Paris. The conference seeks to address how ignorance about phenomena in different epistemic fields of the late medieval and early modern world was recognized (or not), used and coped with, differently from modern times. The Harvard part is devoted to the fields of historiography, the information management of early modern states and empires, on decision making under ignorance, political discourses dealing with and reacting to unknowns, early modern natural science, the coping with ignorance and silence from canon law to continental common law, and in several case studies on humanism, coping with ignorances in travel writing and translations as well as in the visual arts.

Thursday, February 19, 2015
Harvard University, Robinson Hall, Basement Seminar Room
Prof. Dr. Cornel Zwierlein (Bochum/Harvard): Short introductory note

History and the State
Chair: Prof. Dr. Joyce Chaplin (Harvard)

9.15-9.45 Prof. Dr. Lucian Hölscher (Bochum): The Construction of and Coping with empty times in Early Modern Historiography Link

9.45-10.15 Prof. Dr. Cornel Zwierlein (Bochum/Harvard): Borders of Ignorance? Historical knowledge about the Levant regions, 1650-1750 Link

10.15-10.45 Dr. William O'Reilly (Cambridge/UK / Harvard Weatherhead): East or west? Choosing without knowing in seventeenth and eighteenth-century migration

10.45-11.15 Discussion

11.15-11.30 Coffee Break

Chair: Prof. Dr. Joyce Chaplin (Harvard)

11.30-12 Dr. Andrew McKenzie-McHarg (Cambridge/UK): The Role of the Unknown Superiors in the Emergence of Late Enlightenment Conspiracy Theories Link

12-12.30 Dr. Albert Schirrmeister (HU Berlin/EHESS Paris): Ignorance before a war: attitudes and action of expectation (Spanish War of Succession) Link

12.30-1 Dicussion

1-1.45 Lunch

Chair: Prof. Dr. Joyce Chaplin (Harvard)

1.45-2.15 Dr.des. Eleonora Rohland (Bochum/Zürich): Dealing with hurricanes and Mississippi floods in New Orleans, 1718-1794. Environmental (non-) knowledge in a colonial context Link

2.15-2.45 Louis Gerdelan (Harvard): Storms of controversy and the intellectual climate of meteorology in Britain and France in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries Link

2.45-3 Discussion

Friday, February 20, 2015
Harvard University, Robinson Hall, Lower Library Room
Humanism and Visual representation

10-10.30 Prof. Dr. John Hamilton (Harvard): Voluptas carnis: Allegory and Nonknowledge in Pieter Aersten's Det fedde køkken

10.30-11 Dr. des. Taylor Cowdery (Harvard): Terra incognita: Theories of Reading and Translation in William Caxton's England. Link

11-11.30 Dr. Michael Tworek (Harvard): Shifting Ignorance: Civilization and Barbarism in Early Modern Poland Link

11.30-12 Discussion

12-1.30 Lunch

Chair: Prof. Dr. Charles Donahue (Harvard)

1.30-2 Prof. Dr. Mathias Schmoeckel (Bonn): The imperfect knowledge of the judge Link

2-2.30 Prof. Dr. Govind Sreenivasan (Brandeis): Speaking Nothing to Power in early modern Germany: making sense of peasant silence in the Ius Commune Link

2.30-3 Dr. Will Smiley (Yale): Assertions and Ignorance: Sharia, the Law of Nations, and the Ottoman Empire, 1730-1830

3-3.30 Discussion and Final Discussion of Conference


This is part I of a two-place conference. Part II will take place at the German Historical Institute Paris, April 23/24, 2015. A separate announcement with detailed schedule and information for registration will be published later. Contributors and titles of contribution (thematic and alphabetical order):

Thursday, April 23

9.00 Welcome note Prof. Dr. Thomas Maissen, Director German Historical Institute

Short introductory note Prof. Dr. Cornel Zwierlein

Economy I

Chair and Comment: Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Kaiser (Paris I/EHESS)

9.30 Prof. Dr. Daniel Smail (Harvard): Economic Measuring, Estimation and System Uncertainties in Late Medieval City Economies Link

10.00 Dr. Giovanni Ceccarelli (Parma): Coping with unknown risks in Renaissance Florence: Insurers, friars and abbaco teachers Link

Short discussion

10.30 Coffee break

11.00 Dr. Moritz Isenmann (Cologne): Non-knowledge and perception as factors for trade policy in the Seventeenth Century? Link

11.30 Prof. Dr. Cornel Zwierlein (Bochum/ Harvard): The unknown nation. Ignorance and Mercantilism in the Mediterranean 1660-1740 Link

12.00 Panel discussion

12.30 Lunch

Economy II

Chair: Prof. Dr. Philippe Minard (Paris VII/EHESS)

14.00 Prof. Dr. Marie-Laure Legay (Lille): L’ignorance dans la culture financière de l’Etat au XVIIIe siècle Link

14.30 Dr. William Deringer (Columbia): Modelling Ignorance: Uncertainty, Secrecy, and Financial Analysis in Eighteenth-Century Britain Link

15.00 Dr. Magnus Ressel (Frankfurt/M): Institutionalization as compensation of market intransparency: The Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice and the Levant Market Link

15.30 Panel discussion

16.00 Coffee break

16.30 Comments on the Panels Economy I and Economy II

Dr. Jean-Marc Rohrbasser (INED), Premodern Perspectives

Prof. Dr. Alessandro Stanziani (EHESS), Modern Perspectives and Comparisons

Friday, April 24

Travel, Geography, Communication, Politics

Chair: PD Dr. Rainer Babel

9.00 Prof. Dr. Adam Kosto (Columbia): Ignorance about the traveller: Safe-Conduct in the Middle Ages Link

9.30 Dr. Lucile Haguet (Rouen): D’Anville and the specified ignorance: an unexpected but powerful way of promoting maps and geography Link

10.00 Short coffee break

10.15 Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Behringer (Saarbrücken): Knowledge gaps, security and the development of Early Modern Transport communication

10.45 Dr. des. Devin Fitzgerald (Harvard): The blind Emperor: long-distance communication in 17th century China Link
11.15 Short coffee break

11.30 Dr. Fabrice Micallef (Paris I): Decision-making without knowledge. European powers and the ‘affairs of Provence’ (1589-1596)

12.00 Dr. Albert Schirrmeister (HU Berlin/EHESS Paris), Ignorance before a war: attitudes and action of expectation (the Spanish War of Succession)

12.30 Comment on the Friday Panel Prof. Dr. Christine Lebeau, Paris I

Panel Discussion, Final Discussion and Conclusion

13.30 Lunch

online database 'Die Ikonographie der brennenden Stadt'

Thanks to the fruitful collaboration with the art-history online-archive 'Prometheus' we finally present to the historical community a database of 529 images of urban fires in Germany and Austria dated from the pre modern period through 1939. We established this Corpus from 2008 through 2012 in the context of our research project 'Risikozähmung in der Vormoderne' (funded by the 'DFG') in which we focussed on the hazards of fire, especially concerning urban fires in the early modern period.
Urban fires were considered - apart from inundations in cities and localities that were built close to the water- the greatest possible and common catastrophe that people of the pre modern and modern period were exposed to. Urban fires in the majority of cases devastated the whole city, sometimes great parts of it, and thus destroyed the realm of security which had grown for the inhabitants of the cities through the process of medieval communalization.
One of our central research questions was on how the percerption of this great hazard changed throughout the pre modern and modern period. For this purpose we gathered a wide range of iconographic sources such as tableaux, lithographies, prints, wood and copperplate engravings, watercolours, drawings, situation plans of fire sites, also some frescoes, votive medals and painted targets; From 1857, increasing numbers of photographies can be encountered.
The art historical research about the iconography of catastrophes in general and the iconography of urban fires is in its very beginnings. Prof. Zwierlein´s monograph 'Der gezähmte Prometheus' tries to delineate a first developmental-historical alignment; but this research topic still requires decided art-historic consolidation.
The image-collection is now available for anyone interested to tie in with questions of how the iconography of catastrophes formed.


Der gezähmte Prometheus. Feuer und Sicherheit zwischen Früher Neuzeit und Moderne, Göttingen : Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht (=Umwelt und Gesellschaft Bd.3) 2011, 464 S.

The habilitation thesis, 'Der gezähmte Prometheus. Feuer und Sicherheit zwischen Früher Neuzeit und Moderne' deals with the threat of comprehensive fires in cities, and the fire risk in general and methods of coping with it in cities at the transition between the Premodern and the Modern period. The problem of fire in cities was chosen as a tilting phenomenon between culture and nature, between civilizational and environmental elements, to focus the non-trivial question about what 'environment' and 'nature', seen from an anthropocentric position, might be. The timeframe first concentrates on the transition to modernity in Europe, but comparative perspectives (Istanbul, Indian colonial cities) are considered as well. The question of how security was produced in the face of the threat of disasters takes center stage - thus the fire insurances in Germany and England from ca. 1680 to ca. 1850 are the focal point. This project is organically linked with the below-mentioned DFG research project.

DFG Research Project 'Risikozähmung in der Vormoderne'

Funding from May 2009 till March 2012 in Bochum.

The DFG project deals with the relationship between authoritorian institutional (after)care on the one hand and increasingly stimulated self-provision on the other hand regarding risks which were conceived or individualized in a new way in the Early Modern period. In this context the project has two focal points: The natural hazard of fire and conflagration, and the danger of enslavement of Christian sailors by the North African Barbary pirates.

The reaction to these hazards was inter alia the ‘new’ practice and theory of insurances, which being outside the cooperative form was unusual in Early Modern Europe. How was the transfer of the principle of insurances made from mercantile premium insurances to other societal sectors and institutions? And how was this related to more cooperative organisational elements? How was all this classified in the contemporary knowledge order, particularly in the legal discourse, or reflected in the field of discourse of the cameralists?
The first authoritorian-organised ‘public law’ insurance was established for the ransom of slaves. In the 17th/18th century the principle of insurance was also applied to fire hazards.
In this way insurances may be studied as a kind of 'influence méditérranéenne' in the sense of Braudel, which were transferred from the maritime trade to the sphere of insurance against natural hazards. Thus environmental history first follows the history of an ‘planned view’ of the world, before this view was directed on 'nature'.

Staff Members in the Project

Room GA 4/139
Phone: 0049-234-32-24664

Research Associates:

Wissenschaftliche Hilfskräfte:

Laura Sembritzki

Sören Nolte
Email: sö

Max Ammareller

To Staff Members

DFG/ANR project 'eurolab'

The French-German Projekt 'eurolab' started in 2010. Under cooperation with Prof. Cornel Zwierlein a group of scientists works about 'Dynamique des Langues vernagulaires dans l´Europe de la Renaissance'.

Conference: The Production of Human Security in Premodern and Contemporary History, April 8th-10th 2010

CfP: The Production of Human Security in Premodern and Contemporary History

Veröffentlicht am 07.09.2009
Veranstalter: Prof. Dr. Cornel Zwierlein Dr. Rüdiger Graf, Magnus Ressel, Dipl. Kultw. Rebecca Knapp, M.A. Juniorprofessur Umweltgeschichte / Lehrstuhl für Zeitgeschichte Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Datum, Ort: 08.04.2010-10.04.2010, Bochum
Deadline: 15.11.2009

"The Production of Human Security in Premodern and Contemporary History"

Conference April 8 - 10, 2010, Bochum
Deadline for submission of papers: November 15, 2009

Since the 1990s the concept of "human security" has been used increasingly in the debates on social and political theory as well as in practical international politics. Part of its appeal is due to the unusually wide extension of the term covering such diverse objects as classical international security politics, security problems arising from natural hazards and even threats of traffic accidents. In general, the concept is designed to replace the perspective of the so-called ‘Westphalian System’ in which sovereign state actors conduct international politics , and individual human beings are subject only to state authority which has to be respected by other states and international actors.

Advocates of the human security concept, not least the representatives of UN institutions, rely on a historical narrative in which the current widening of the notion of security is nothing new. Rather it is conceived of as the revival of older, pre-modern and pre-Westphalian concepts of security such as the scholastic concept of securitas, the security aims of all kinds of pre-modern ‘Policey’-orders or the medieval and early modern concepts of risk management and security production by state and non-state actors. In this scheme, the era of the modern nation-state with its clear distinctions between domestic and foreign, private and state security appears as a historical exception.

At our conference we want to historicize the understanding of ‘human security’ by analyzing the variable and dialectic relations between people’s fears and the production of ‘security’ in pre-modern and contemporary times. We hope to test and challenge the simple historical narrative of a correspondence between pre-modern and late modern concepts of security and to explore the complex and historically variable ways of producing security. Comparing the pre-modern and the contemporary world we do not want to reproduce the historical narrative of ‘human security’ uncritically: contributions on the 19th and early 20th centuries are welcome if they address the ‘unclassic sides of classic modernity’. In general, we want to avoid the common dichotomy between a 'modern' and a 'post-modern' world which puts too much emphasis on the uniqueness of our time and instead focus on underlying similarities and structural problems of the production of security in the perspective of a 'longue-durée'. Thereby, we hope to assess the usefulness and productivity of 'human security' as a concept of historical analysis.

We invite papers which address one or several of the following aspects of the production of human security in premodern and/or contemporary history:

1) Multiple Fears – Multiple Securities? Subjects, Types, Dimensions
While, in general, historical scholarship tends to concentrate either – as it has been fashionable in recent years – on “fear” or on “security,” these concepts need to be conceived of as two sides of one coin. Which spaces, phenomena and actions were connected with which kinds of fear in pre-modern times and today: the sea, unknown places, insecure futures, disease, economic downfall, natural disasters? What were the corresponding types of security, how were they produced, what was their scope and, above all, to what extent did regimes of security trigger the fears that they were designed to overcome?

2) Conveyors of Security: States, Institutions, and Communities
Which different historical actors offered security for which groups of people? Shifting the analysis away from an overly state-centered view we want to ask what kinds of institutions and communities provided human security (the family, ‘the church’ in all its dimensions, guilds, private insurance companies, state based insurances or private security services)? How did these “producers of human security” compete with each other and convince their clients that they were able to guarantee their security?

3) Techniques and Technologies of Security
It is common to draw a sharp distinction between a present “risk-society” and pre-modern times by referring to the function of modern technology considered to be fundamentally new. However, the Janus-faced nature of technology producing simultaneously security and insecurity may also be found in history before the advent of the machine. In which ways did technological advancements create new fears and how were new technologies and techniques used in order to promise greater security in premodern as well as in contemporary history?

4) Security and Religious Cultures
Anthropologists remind us that the specific needs for different sorts of security vary over time and from group to group. What constitutes a "fear" or a "risk" and what is considered to be “security” for a certain group at a certain time need not be worth any consideration for another group at another time. With this basic premise in mind, we would like to analyze the reactions of different groups (religious, ethnic, cultural, etc.) toward comparable dangers, thereby elucidating the social constructions of past and present needs for security.

5) Relations between International and ”inner” Security
The paradigm cases for the application of the concept of “human security” are humanitarian interventions in failed or failing states. Do these allow comparisons to pre-modern conflicts and interventions before the rise of the sovereign state? Moreover, the relation between domestic and international security pervades current debates about global terrorism and the alleged trade-off between freedom and security. How did various state and non-state actors treat and negotiate the relations between international threats and the productions of domestic security on the one hand and internal insecurities and the international production of security on the other?

6) Historicizing Sociologies and Anthropologies of Fear and Security

Sociologists, political scientists and anthropologists have developed various theories of fear and security. While these theories constitute important inspirations for historical research they should neither be read as factual descriptions nor be uncritically presupposed in the research process. Rather, they have to be historicized: Who theorized “fear” or “security” in which historical constellation with which specific interests?

Please submit an abstract of no more than one page outlining your talk plus a short CV to / by November 15, 2009.

A first draft of the whole paper (approx. 10 pages) should be submitted by March 15, 2010 for pre-circulation.

The publication of the papers in due course is planned.

Accommodation will be provided and travel expenses at reasonable cost can be reimbursed.

Cornel Zwierlein
Rüdiger Graf
Magnus Ressel
Rebecca Knapp

URL zur Zitation dieses Beitrages:

Copyright (c) 2009 by H-Net and Clio-online, all rights reserved. This work may be copied and redistributed for non-commercial, educational use if proper credit is given to the author and to the list. For other permission, please contact H-SOZ-U-KULT@H-NET.

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