Our research interests range from the consequences of European expansion for Europeans' conception of the body and disease, the history of material culture and consumption, the analysis of historical social networks, the history of family, kinship and godparenthood, rural society, social inequality to digital historiography. On this page we present ongoing and completed projects in more detail.
The European expansion and the Europeans' conception of the body and disease
The early modern era was characterised by a profound change in consumer behaviour, material culture and the perception of the human body. With the slow scientificization of early modern medicine, the view of the human body changed and its basic structures and functions were increasingly better understood. At the same time, the Enlightenment brought about a change in thinking, which placed the preoccupation with one's own self and the concern for the self in a new framework and enhanced it both on the individual and on the level of society as a whole. Decisive impulses also came from the increasing intertwining and interaction with the non-European world, from encounters with foreign cultures, but also from the things and materials that found their way onto the European continent. The European expansion of the early modern period led to contacts with foreign cultural, medical and botanical knowledge; at the same time, scientific curiosity and the search for marketable products provided an important impulse for the European penetration of the world. The discovery of exotic plants and animals, the encounter with indigenous medical knowledge and the tasting of foreign culinary diets were experiences that permanently shook the European spheres of knowledge and knowledge production. Many of these foreign substances found their way to Europe and initiated processes of differentiation and categorisation, of reorientation of known knowledge - and thus of new options for action. The project focuses on these new knowledge formations and their significance for the European self-image.
DFG project: Consumer revolution and changes in household consumption
Non-peasants in rural society
Apart from a few exceptions, especially research in the context of the discussion on proto-industrialisation, the social situation of rural lower classes has not been addressed much in previous research. This applies not only to German research, but also to a large extent to international research. Beyond poor welfare, there is only little attention the living conditions and the role of the landless part of the rural population for economic development. The relevance of this increasing part of premodern population results, among other things, from the fact that long before the agricultural reforms, agricultural development supported by labour intensification was an important basis for the acceleration of population growth and the industrialisation of the 19th century. My research focuses on three central topics: First, the social places where landless families could settle. This refers both to geographical areas - for example, peripheral locations that were not very attractive from an agricultural point of view - and to the proximity and distance of the places of residence to the rural employers, who in some settings also acted as landlords of housing. Secondly, I study labour relations between the landless and the farmers as the most important employers. These were located along a line that ended around a relatively close patron-client relationship, partly characterized by reciprocity, and a far-reaching separation of personal and market-like labour relations. Both had implications for the local power structure, but also for the ability to deal with crises. Thirdly, developments in socio-economic structures are examined, which can include processes of proletarianisation, but also reagrarisation. Institutional and political change as well as changes in markets have opened and closed opportunities, for example by allowing access to land for other forms of economic activity than mere dependence on peasant employers. My work in this research area is based on the digital recording and analysis of population lists and other sources, which will be made available to researchers in the medium term by processing them in a larger database. In terms of content, I pursue the question of the causes of different development paths, as initial studies have shown for different regions.
Family, kinship and social networks
This research area investigates family strategies and the construction of social networks in Westphalian communities. In my PhD, the comparative micro-study focused on intergenerational resource transfer, marriage behaviour and the network structures of local communities in two rural parishes. Important results were firstly the classification of the idea of a 'rural class society' by pointing at dense social networks across social strata in at least one of the communities. A second central result concerns the identification of family strategies of peasants and non-peasants, which revealed pronounced ideas of inter- and intragenerational justice, contrary to popular concepts such as the 'patriarchal family' without much empirical evidence. Families developed solutions adapted to the actual situation and strived for a balance of interests within the family, but, contrary to the view established in older research, they were not very much oriented towards traditional procedures. Thirdly, it could be shown that the formal analysis of social networks, which has hardly been tested on historical material, can be successfully used for an investigation of historical societies and that by applying innovative methods such as formal network analysis, results can be achieved that go far beyond the current state of research.
Digital history - methods for innovative historical research
The application of suitable ways of data acquisition, data collection and the linking of information from disparate sources formed the basis for detailed and methodologically sophisticated analyses already in my dissertation. In addition to the application of common statistical methods, I used formal social network analyses, drawing on various approaches within social network research. I have used well established methods of network analysis as well as highly specialized methods that allow, for example, the examination of genealogical data. The visualization of the results obtained is also one of the applied methods, which are particularly suitable for the presentation of network analyses. In this way I was able to show that the formal analysis of social networks, which has hardly been tested on historical material, can also be successfully used for an investigation of historical societies. In the context of the research field of material culture, innovative methods of digital text capture and analysis are being tested in addition to the methods of data collection, the collection and linking of sources in relational databases developed in the dissertation. The handwritten estate inventories collected in the DFG project "Consumer revolution and changes in household consumption in probate inventories in Northwestern Germany (16.-19. c.)" are well suited to test the performance of HRT systems (Handwritten Text Recognition) and to make the collection of handwritten mass sources accessible to digital processing. The development of such systems requires testing and qualified feedback from users to improve the reliability of text recognition.