About the people behind the project 'Paper Princes'
Dr. Megan K. Williams (University of Groningen) -- Principal Investigator (PI)
Dr. Megan K. Williams has been employed as Assistant Professor (universitair docent) in Early Modern History at the University of Groningen in the northern Netherlands since August 2009.
She received her PhD in Early Modern History at Columbia University in May 2009 for her dissertation "Dangerous Diplomacy and Dependable Kin: Transformations in Central European Statecraft, 1526-1540". In the early sixteenth century, "international" norms and the nature of diplomacy were being fundamentally re-negotiated. Ambassadors were increasingly expected to reside for longer periods at their host courts, engaging not only in representation and negotiation but also in the novel practice of gathering and transmitting politically-relevant information. This shift in ambassadors' functions caused contemporaries to question ambassadors' traditional immunities, and in particular, their immunity while in transit to their host courts. Dr. Williams was struck by the number of early sixteenth-century multi-lateral disputes over diplomats' immunity in transit. Dr. Williams' thesis used early sixteenth-century Austrian, Hungarian, and Italian archival materials to examine why these cases became so contentious, and what repercussions they had (and still have) on international norms. Such multi-lateral disputes were central to the renegotiation of "international" legal norms governing diplomatic practice, she found. These disputes also, she argued, played a role in the evolution of transit documents (such as the safe-conduct or passport) and in defining and delineating early modern territorial borders and border security regimes.
Her thesis also examined how sixteenth-century diplomats sought to mitigate their risks in transit. Diplomatic history has traditionally heroicized and idealized the ambassador as solitary individual. Dr. Williams showed, however, that early modern diplomats typically relied on flexible and overlapping networks of kinship and patronage in pursuit of their duties. In the 1520s and 30s, for example, the Italian Casali brothers acted as Hungarian and English ambassadors at Rome and Venice, utilizing family resources for financial aid, hospitality, secretarial and courier services, information, and crucially, to obtain release when arrested in transit. Early modern diplomacy, Dr. Williams argued, was often a family affair. For more on the Casali family's diplomacy, see Dr. Williams' publications.
Dr. Williams has presented widely on her research at academic conferences and in assorted venues in the United States and Europe. Her dissertation research in Vienna, Budapest, Venice, Rome, Bologna, Dubrovnik, Berlin, and Brussels was generously funded by Whiting Foundation (2007-08), Mellon Interdisciplinary (2007-08), Fulbright-Hays (2006-07), Ernst Mach (2006), German Marshall (2005) and Columbia University fellowships (2001-2006). She subsequently held a postdoctoral fellowship at the Italian Academy for Advanced Study in New York, where she studied Italian ambassadorial networks, and was nominated an American Council of Learned Societies-Mellon Early Career Fellow at the Heyman Center for the Humanities in New York prior to taking up her current position at the University of Groningen.
Dr. Williams' dissertation showed that the modern practice of resident diplomacy could not have functioned without a concept of diplomatic immunity-in-transit. During her research, Dr. Williams became intrigued by another precondition for resident diplomacy: paper. Paper was, she argues, an indispensable material support for late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century diplomats' new reporting practices. In 2012 she won a Vernieuwingsimpulse Veni (early career) research grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) to study this question in her current project, 'Paper Princes'.
Her research interests include early modern political communications, diplomatic practice, archival practices, diplomatic networks, legal mobility regimes, humanism, paper and book history, the history of science, material culture, and political culture, chiefly in the period ca. 1450-1550. Are you a colleague interested in collaborating with Dr. Williams? Contact her with your project, lecture/panel/conference invitation, queries, or comments.
In addition to her research, Dr. Williams teaches in early modern history, the Mediterranean Studies Minor, the American History Minor, and the Classical, Medieval, and Renaissance Studies Research MA program at the University of Groningen. She is also active in guiding student theses at the BA, MA, and PhD levels. Are you a potential BA, MA or PhD student interested in working with Dr. Williams? Contact her with your background, interests, and/or thesis proposal. You can learn more about the University of Groningen's BA, MA and PhD programs and funding opportunities at www.rug.nl/education/courses.
- Frank Birkenholz, Research MA in Classical, Medieval and Renaissance Studies (University of Groningen, 2015)
- Jeroen Claassens, Research MA-Student in Classical, Medieval and Renaissance Studies (University of Groningen)
- Johanna Feenstra, Research MA-Student in Classical, Medieval and Renaissance Studies (University of Groningen)
- Quinten Somsen, Research MA-Student in History: Europe: 1000-1800 (University of Leiden)