Refugees and Early Modern States


This project tackles how refugees as political actors impacted state-building between ca. 1570–1730. Departing from structuralist approaches to state formation, I propose to examine state formation as a result of the implementation of ‘normative political principles’ – moral maxims used to attain or maintain a just order in society. I hypothesize that religious refugees became active designers of these norms, as they tried to secure their position before and after displacement. They did this by pleading with secular and church authorities, other exile communities, and foreign audiences more generally through private correspondence and (public) diplomacy. 

Objective 1: Refugee agency and the politics of integration  

Refugees advocated their settlement among potential host societies by appealing to the state-building normative principles of Peuplierung (populating underdeveloped regions in European states and its colonies) and demographic confessionalization (strengthening politically dominant confessions through immigration). Studying different exile communities in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries will test to what extent refugees influenced and possibly invented these different forms of population politics. 

Objective 2: Refugee agency and the moral responsibility of the state  

Traditionally, historians have associated the rise of the nation state with the territorial curtailing of moral communities. Yet many political actors perceived their states as responsible for persecuted coreligionists abroad, and even called out foreign governments who failed to fulfill their presumed duties towards refugees. This subproject focuses on how refugees shaped the normative principles of intercession and intervention and tracks their changing strategies.  

Specific episodes of persecution, immigration, and intercession are singled out as case studies: 

(1) Dutch Reformed and Catholic refugees in the 1570s to and from the Low Countries and surrounding cities.  

(2) The Reformed Huguenots in the 1680s to the Dutch Republic, Brandenburg-Prussia, and England.  

(3) The Swiss Anabaptists of 1711 from Switzerland to the Dutch Republic compared with the Salzburg Lutherans to Brandenburg-Prussia in 1730. 

Researcher: David de Boer

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