Government and Knowledge: Ideas and Practices of State Building in Early Modern Europe

Course Description: 

This course is intended as a cultural history of the state, including a history of the ideas about the ways it was expected and recognized to function, in early-modern Europe, with a focus on the Habsburg possessions, while revisiting the stereotype of the ‘emergence of the modern state’ in European history in general. This inevitably implies a consideration of the phenomenon of the composite state and the kinds of challenges peculiar to such states. The essentially negotiated character of policy making even in the most ‘absolutistic’ of early-modern states will be examined, with respect to both the efficient exercise of political authority and management of resources, and the legal, institutional, bureaucratic and other devices employed to ensure ‘good government’. Particular emphasis will be laid on situations in which, and the extent to which, these imperatives were regarded as combined and mutually dependent. We shall inquire into the conceptual tools (theories of reason of state, natural law, cameralism, statistics etc.) that underpinned administrative measures and policies, and into the means whereby governments communicated their ends to their subjects (and the other way round). By providing an up-to-date understanding of such processes, the course seeks to go beyond the stereotypical presentation of the political and institutional history of the period and the region in terms of centralisation/absolutism versus estates politics, and the transition to a truncated version of liberalism thereafter.

Learning Outcomes: 

he course aims to develop a comprehensive and critical understanding of a crucial period in, and crucial aspects of, European state formation in a fresh perspective, based on familiarity with primary texts and recent scholarship. Students will be able to contextualize the relevant regional processes against broader spatial and temporal structures.


  at least one “position paper” (a prepared, formal comment on the readings for the week, in ca. 15 minutes, identifying central themes and attempting to set an agenda for discussion) – 10% of the grade

-          regular participation in class discussion (with comments whose precision and relevance demonstrates a careful reading of the texts for the week and a careful listening to the flow of discussion) – 40% of the grade

-          one written essay (ca. 2,500-3,000 words or 8-10 pages, topic and material to be discussed with the instructor, evaluated on the basis of its ability to address and answer key questions this course has been designed to raise) – 50% of the grade