The dissemination of “fake news” and “alternative facts” has become a daily phenomenon with which the current political authorities try to influence our way of thinking. Yet the idea of circulating additional facts and alternative information is nothing new; it has a history that goes back at least to the invention of the printing press. With the sudden spread of huge quantities of information to new segments of the population, gaining control over communication channels became an essential element of successful leadership. Political authorities actively intervened by enforcing various print policies. One of the proven control techniques was the institutionalisation of so-called printing privileges, which provided a temporary right for the exclusive production and retailing of particular images, maps, or book titles. Printing privileges had both an economic impact and a social bearing; they functioned as a governmental hallmark to guarantee the quality of information. Along those lines, this project argued that printing privileges served to allow specific information to circulate at the expense of alternatives. In that way, the political authorities manipulated the production of knowledge and endeavoured to frame the notion of “useful knowledge”.
The focus of the project was the Dutch Republic, one of the major print production centres in early modern Europe, during the turbulent period 1581-1621, when the Dutch broke away from the Habsburg Spanish Empire to form their own de facto state. It provided a systematic analysis of the reshaping of ownership notions in the light of continuous revolution and the building of a colonial empire. A digital archive containing the privileges issued in the Dutch Republic during the first decades of its existence allowed for cross-cultural comparisons as well as for novel ways of understanding how knowledge was shared among authors, publishers, artists, the general public, and the State in early modern Europe.
Postdoctoral research fellowship Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
August 2014 – October 2017
Simon Stevin (1549-1620) was one of the most famous scientists of the early modern period. He made fundamental contributions to the science of mechanics and hydrostatics, and invented among other things the decimal system for fractions. This project examines Stevin’s method for studying “the secrets of nature” by focusing on his oft-neglected treatise on logic entitled Dialectics or the Art of Demonstration (Leiden: Plantijn, 1585). Stevin’s work on logic has never been translated, nor has it been studied in depth. This project will situate the Dialectike in its context, posing the question how Stevin managed to integrate scholastic dialectical method with a “modern” outlook on empirical science. The project will result (a) in a critical edition and translation of Stevin’s Dialectike, and (b) in a number of articles that examine Stevin’s use of common language as well as his extraordinary views on matter.
Dahlem Research School Fellowship Dahlem Humanities Center Freie Universität Berlin
November 2017 – December 2018
Ph.D. thesis: Privileged Knowledge. Inventions and the legitimization of knowledge in the early Dutch Republic (ca. 1581-1621)
This thesis examines the history of patent law in relation to the development of early modern science. Focusing on the Dutch Republic between 1581 and 1621, it reconstructs the legal backgrounds to the patents system, the social construction of patent procedures, and the ways in which new procedures were being tested. I argue that the institution of a patent system was an integral part of early modern state-formation, and that it provided a distinct ‘working model’ for arriving at truth claims through the use of experimental method.
The thesis is divided into two parts. In the first part, I deconstruct the unstable notions of privilege and invention, while discussing some of the political and economic characteristics of the privilege system particular to the Dutch Republic. Important research questions in the first part of the thesis are related to the role of the merchants; the notion of competition; Dutch mercantile politics; and the relationship between States-General and provincial states. In the second part of the thesis, I argue that privilege practices created a space in which craftsmen and intellectuals could interact and become acquainted with each other’s methods. I deal with the social composition of the actors involved in the privileges business and enter into the legal theory relating to inventor privileges. On the basis of a number of case studies, I argue that the legal obligations within the privilege regime provided the different actors with a model of how to execute experiments. Thus, the privilege system – in essence a legal tool with an economic purpose – played a crucial role in the development of a modern attitude towards the verification of knowledge.
Pd.D. Thesis, European University Institute (Florence, Italy)
September 2007 – December 2013
The unprecedented growth of cities in early modern Europe gave rise to a series of new demands, such as sewer systems or installations to supply clean drinking water. The development of these urban infrastructure schemes came about under the auspices of the political authorities, who often used patents as a means to promote technological innovation. A patent functioned as a hallmark showing that the authorities had given their approval for the implementation of new facilities. This research project explores the idea that the very functionality of patented technology therefore fostered a sense of compliance and so ultimately contributed to the political legitimacy of the authorities.
Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies (Wassenaar, the Netherlands), ‘Knowledge and the City, ca. 1450-1800.’
March 2016 – June 2016