Central Europe in the Transoceanic Early Modern World

Friday, January 3, 2020: 4:10 PM
Mercury Ballroom (New York Hilton)
Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, University of WisconsinMilwaukee
Historians who study the early modern period around the world have emphasized increased cultural contacts as the defining characteristic of the era. As the Journal of Early Modern History puts it in its self-description: “‘Early modern’ is a convenient description for the age that was marked by a quantum leap in the level of global interaction.”That quantum leap has largely been studied as one involving transoceanic movements of people, goods, and ideas. Because of this, the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans have all emerged as important units for research and teaching in what some have dubbed a “new thalassology.” Where does ocean-centric analysis leave Central Europe? This paper will highlight the role of individuals from Central Europe in early modern transoceanic ventures,including adventurers, merchants, missionaries, engineers, soldiers, and settlers. It will examine Central European printers and mapmakers who were crucial producers of knowledge about the increasingly globalized world, as well as financiers, patrons, and consumers—male and female—whose money facilitated empire-building, missionary work, and trade. It will contend that Central Europeans were active in constructing transcultural experiences on a global scale—for better or worse—from Martin Waldseemüller’s 1507 map on, or even earlier if we think of ‘global’ as looking across lands as well as the seas, for Central European people had directly confronted, travelled in, and traded with the expanding Ottoman Empire long before Columbus, and were important figures in the expansion of Muscovy into the Russian Empire. Thus the paper will argue both that the transoceanic world was not created solely by Western Europeans, and that key transregional and global interactions in the early modern period were not limited to those that crossed oceans.