Since the beginning of my academic career, I have developed very different research foci. The common ground of my research, however, is the culturalist approach by which I mean (inter alia) the study of symbolical communication (rituals, ceremonies and other sorts of micro action), the consideration of spatial, bodily and material practices, the study of political languages and ideas (in terms of the Cambridge School) and the deconstruction of would-be obviousness by ethno-methodological approaches.
My major fields of research include (numbers referring to my list of publications):
History of political crime and security: Here I am interested in the making of traitors in early modern England and Britain from the Reformation to the end of the Age of Reform (1550-1850). I look at the ways how a treason accusation was established and brought into the courts, how it there became a controversial matter there between the defendant, the crown lawyers, jurors and judges and how the discussions continued on the gallows and in print. This was the subject of my habilitation thesis (42), which is to be published in June 2017. In a few articles, I have studied how images and semantics contributed to the fabrication of traitors (32), how riots were labelled as treason (38) and how the concept of conspiracy became a surrogate in cases where treason charges appeared to be excessive. Based on this, I am also editing two books, one on the cultural history of treason from the ancient world to the present (52), the other on the history of assassinations and conspiracies in the early modern period (53). In my project within the Collaborative Research Centre “Cultures of decision making” (Münster University) we are studying how state security became a subject of political decision making. My focus here is especially on the cabinet in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Further articles in this field involve cases studies on capital punishment (14, 15) or the emergence of corruption as a forensic theme (22), the relation of religion and penal law (34, 35) in the course of modernization.
Urban history: My dissertation (1) was not only, but primarily a contribution to urban history. I was interested how non-princely states like free imperial cities could survive politically in the early modern society of princes. Based on material from Cologne, Frankfurt, Bremen and Schwäbisch Hall I have studied ceremonies and rituals as the major ways and means of communication between cities and their aristocratic environment. It became apparent that free imperial cities were not only skilful players in the field of symbolical communication, but also rejected to play a special role. They claimed to be a part of the society of princes, not a republican exotic. Starting from this I have also worked on the political senses of state funerals for mayors (13), on the importance of symbolical communication for the urban public sphere (26, 30). I am also interested in the history of London, especially in the linkage of printed media and urban growth. Just published is an introduction to urban history for BA-students (4). I am going to submit a DFG-Grant application for a project (two doctoral students) on the comparative media history of early modern 'Megacities' such as London, Paris, Naples, Lissabon and Istanbul.
New diplomatic history and transcultural history: My dissertation was a contribution to urban history as well as to new diplomatic history. This history is ‚new‘, insofar as it does not start with sovereign states (as in traditional approaches) but with the complex realities of early modern Europe where small dynasties, powerless ecclesiastical princes or imperial cities actively participated in the world of diplomacy. This approach is also new because it is interested in informal structures, patronage and the meaning of rituals, all that which was ignored in the ‘’classical’ diplomatic history. Next to a few articles on urban diplomacy (11, 12.), I am also co-editing a book-series on that subject, together with Christian Windler (Bern) and Hillard von Thiessen (Rostock). At the moment I am working on the history of Anglo-Moroccan Relations in the ‘Sattelzeit’ (1750-1850). I have recently attracted third-party funding of a project, in which the British relations with Morocco are compared with the Anglo-Persian relations in the same period. The latter is a PhD project under my supervision. I am planning to expand this project to a major ERC-Grant application, including further African, Central and South Asian regions, not only refering to British, but also to French, Italian and Dutch Diplomacy and other fringe players.
History of decision making: The history of decision making is one of my key problems at the moment. For a very long time, historians have taken it for granted that people make decisions. However, this phenomenon is less clear than it seems. My concern is not so much why a person made this or that decision. I also do not want to analyse the rationality of give decisions. What I try to understand is, for example, how decisions were ‘framed’ (in terms of Erving Goffman) how they were performed or how they were clothed with sense making narrations. In other word, I am aiming for a strictly culturalist interpretation of decision-making history. Next to articles and book chapters on theoretical approaches (24, 33), on adversarial decision making and its the semantics (25, 39, 41) and on organizational framings (40) I am a currently preparing a book on the decision culture of the English Court of Chancery in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Visual History of Martyrdom (1500-present): In this project, funded by the Cluster of Excellence “Religion and Politics”, I have just finished a book on the visual history of martyrdom from the Reformation to the present. In doing so, I approach the rich tradition of printed images not only as sources, but also as agents. Images of martyrdom often provoked action. When Richard Verstegan, for instance, printed images of catholic missionaries tortured in England, they provoked an outcry, which forced English authorities into fruitless efforts to justify their actions and in the end to refrain from any such activities. As this book covers a period of almost 500 years, I will also pay attention to processes of change, in particular how the concept of martyrdom was secularized and got a ‘modern’ face. The emergence of ‘political martyrs’ is a good example for such effects of secularization and modernization (48).
Granted research projects:
- Visual Cultures of Martyrdom, 17-19th Centuries, in the Cluster of Excellence "Religion and Politics" at the WWU Münster, 2012-2017 (€ 190.000)
- Legal Decision Making in Common Law and Equity, 1750-1850, in the Collaborative Research Centre / SFB 1150 „Cultures of Decision Making“, 2015-2019 (€ 308.000)
- Political Decision Making and English Parliametarism, 16-19th Centuries, in the Collaborative Research Centre / SFB 1150 „Cultures of Decision Making“, 2015-2019 (€ 308.000)
- Persia, Morroco and British Diplomacy, 1750-1850, funded by the Gerda Henkel Foundation as a Research Project with one PhD student and myself as PI, 2017-2019 (€ 48.000)
- Media History of the Early Modern City, funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation as a research network and collaborative book project, 2015-2018 (€ 15.000)