Dr Stefan Hanß

Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History

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Research interests


I am a historian of early modern material culture and global history. Methodologically speaking, I am exploring new interdisciplinary collaborations between historians, the humanities, and the sciences. Studying early modern hair and featherwork with digital microscopy, for instance, I have been at the forefront of using digital microscopes for studying early modern artefacts' material properties. Using the digital microscope as a material culture historian's new tool, my publications explore what it meant to manufacture, see, handle, touch, marvel, and process early modern materials (cf. here). My British Academy Rising Star Event Microscopic Records: The New Interdisciplinarity of Early Modern Studies, c. 1400–1800 explores the possibilities of a broader culture of technologically informed methods of historical enquiry.

My research has been generously supported by the British Academy (Rising Star Engagement Award), the Centro Tedesco di Studi Veneziani, the Dahlem Research School (Honors Fellowship) and Friedrich Meinecke Society of the Freie Universität Berlin, the European Cooperation in Science & Technology (COST Action PIMo CA18140), the Fritz Thyssen Foundation (Herzog Ernst Postdoctoral Fellowship), the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the German Academic Scholarship Foundation (Studienstiftung), the German Historical Institute Rome, the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University (Center for New World Comparative Studies Fellowship), the John Rylands Research Institute Manchester (Research Events Funding), St John's College Cambridge (College Research Associateship and Annual Fund), and the University of Cambridge, Faculty of History (Visiting Scholarship and George Macaulay Trevelyan Fund).


Mediterranean and Global History of Cross-Cultural Encounters

My first monograph examines the sixteenth-century global event-making of the Battle of Lepanto. I decentred the history of Lepanto, which is commonly defined as a victory of 'Christian Europe', by revoicing silenced stories uncovered through research undertaken in more than 170 archives, libraries, and museums. Contemporaries shaped Lepanto's meanings as connected histories in places as far-flung as England, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ethiopia, Russia, the German, Ottoman, and Persian lands as well as Japan, the Philippines, and South America. Building on that research, my second monograph studies the impact of material culture on the production of history. Objects taken during the Battle of Lepanto, such as Ottoman flags, textiles, and manuscripts, were crucial means for crafting narratives and establishing a material presence of this sixteenth-century event.

By challenging the perception of a particular battle in a new methodological approach (histoire de l'événement), I contribute to a broader debate on the status of events in history and the role of material culture in the production of history. In 'Objects that Made History', an article published in Forum Kritische Archäologie, I discuss the concept of 'material microhistory'. Building on methodological debates of microhistorians and archaeologists, this article reflects on how people's ways of object-related thinking made particular interpretations of the battle relevant to their past presence. Reflecting on narratives about the past life of objects, and their consequences for the present, this article reveals the problematic links between historical materiality and the material of history. Further publications on Lepanto, e.g. on German responses to, Spanish storytelling on and Venetian visual culture of Lepanto, are either already published or currently in print. A journal article on the perception of the Battle of Lepanto in the early modern Americas is under review.

In this context, I studied further aspects of cross-cultural encounters in the early modern world. I published on Veneto-Ottoman diplomacy, Ottoman language learning in early modern Germany and on Mediterranean slavery as well as its implications for the broader historiography of global slavery. Further publications on Ottoman language learning in early modern Germany, the Habsburg embassy's material worlds in sixteenth-century Istanbul, the Habsburg Empire's relationships with the Mediterranean, and signing practices of early modern global go-betweens are in print. I have co-edited Mediterranean Slavery Revisited (500–1800) (together with Juliane Schiel, Zurich, 2014), and I am the co-editor of three forthcoming volumes: Scribal Practice: Global Cultures of Colophons, 1400–1700 (ed. with Christopher Bahl, publ. with Palgrave Macmillan, submitted); The Habsburg Mediterranean, 1500–1800 (ed. with Dorothea McEwan, publ. with The Austrian Academy of Sciences, submitted); and In-Between Textiles: Weaving Subjectivities and Encounters, 1400–1800 (together with Beatriz Marín-Aguilera, with the Pasold Series). Conducting research on the cross-cultural circulation of material culture in the early modern Mediterranean and beyond, I am also a UK substitute member of the COST Action People in Motion: Entangled Histories of Displacement across the Mediterranean (1492–1923) (PIMo CA18140). This four-year global research project, which is funded by the European Cooperation in Science and Technology, brings together researchers from 30 countries (04/2019–04/2023).

(©Chronos Verlag, V&R unipress, Ergon Verlag)


Feathers and Feather-Working

Building on my interest in early modern material culture, my current and future research centres on early modern materialized identities in the German- and Spanish-speaking Habsburg lands and on hair and feathers in particular. As a member of the Basel-Bern-Cambridge research group on early modern materialized identities, I conducted archival- and artefact-based research on early modern featherwork that led to a number of publications. A book chapter (in press) charts, for the very first time, the thus far unknown history of early modern European feather-working in its relationship with the world of matter and making. A Historical Journal article focuses on cultural encounters in colonial Peru by discussing the early modern nexus between featherwork and textiles, and how digital microscopy helps uncovering shared global and material stories. By positing the concept of 'period hands', an approach that allows us to focus on the manual dexterity, tangible production, and haptic perception of featherwork across cultures, I explore a shared material world that connected Spaniards and Peruvians. This article was ranked "the 7th most impactful paper in the category 'History' among all works published in the past 14 days" in January 2019 by The Observatory of International Research. Another book chapter reconsiders the aesthetic appreciation of New World feathers in Renaissance Europe (in press). A journal article on ornithology and aviculture in early modern Germany, jointly written with Ulinka Rublack, is accepted for publication with Renaissance Quarterly in 2021. Another journal article on the global material cultures of early modern feather fans, and their scientific analysis, is submitted. Two further texts on feather-working and feather-trading in early modern Germany and the Spanish world are in progress. In all my contributions and publications on early modern feather-working, I reconsider our understanding of the presence, transformation, challenges, and cross-cultural realities of early modern material worlds by connecting in-depth archival studies with new methods in material culture studies like digital microscopy, remaking experiments and collaborations with artists and artisans. I have also conducted microscopical analysis for other institutions, e.g. in preparation of the Whitworth Art Gallery's exhibition Ancient Textiles from the Andes.

(©Stefan Hanß)


Hair in the Habsburg World

Above all, my current research is devoted to the history of hair in Reformation Germany and the broader Habsburg world. In my publications, I explore what it meant to live in what I called a 'hair-literate society'. People's everyday performances of hair and their innovative usage of head, facial, body, and animal hair mirrored fundamental religious and social changes at that time. In the estate-based society of early modern Germany, authorities regulated hairstyles. In such a hair-literate society, however, people innovatively approached hair and managed their appearance by going to barbershops, using medicinal remedies, and staging particular beards and hairstyles. At the heart of the importance of hair was its ambivalence between the affirmation of societal norms and its potential to negotiate them in everyday life. This leads me to examine how hair enabled people to stage identities and to shape gender, social, and confessional boundaries in everyday life. A monograph on this topic is in progress and a book chapter is in press. My History Workshop Journal article examines Habsburg and Ottoman captives' descriptions of forced hair removal in the early modern Mediterranean and their societal, religious, medical and sexual meanings. In the context of early modern German history, I also published on self-narratives, concepts of time (Past & Present), and practices of timing (German History).