H. C. Erik Midelfort

This page reflects a scholar's association with the Folger Institute.

Long-term fellowship

"Suppression of Dissent in Early Modern Germany, 1650 – 1750" (NEH, 2008–2009)

My research project aims to study the means by which the Holy Roman Empire in the century after the Thirty Years’ War suppressed a great many sorts of dissent. This success would not have been predicted during the sixteenth century, when Martin Luther, Sebastian Franck, Caspar Schwenckfeld, and other religious dissenters exploited the religious uncertainties and social anxieties of the day and often moved, without too many restrictions, from town to town or region to region. After 1650, however, German authorities fended off many of the most dangerous ideas and managed to expel, intimidate, or warn off those dissidents who dared circulate clandestine manuscripts or transmit unorthodox ideas. I intend to study the personal fates of such dissidents, the legal mechanisms of urban censure and censorship (in secular courts and church consistories), the self-censorship of publishers, and the failed efforts of foreign radicals to make converts in the German territories. This process is especially interesting because the Holy Roman Empire was not a unified state; it had no effective central body of censors or regulators. Officially there was no tolerance beyond the three recognized faiths (Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed), but there was no German Inquisition. And yet a loose congeries of towns and principalities somehow managed to enforce a remarkable level of uniformity among Germans, both Protestant and Catholic. Such an outcome flies in the face of modern expectations that a system of small towns and competing territories should stimulate freedom rather than conformity.