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Megan Williams

Columbia University

Early modern diplomatic networks in the transmission of culture


Megan K. Williams is a scholar of early modern European history, with emphases on sixteenth-century socio-economic, diplomatic and international legal history. Her work has focused on the lands and neighbors of Habsburg Central Europe, including Venice, Hungary, and the eastern Adriatic.

She recently defended her doctoral dissertation in history at Columbia University. Entitled "Dangerous Diplomacy and Dependable Kin: Transformations in Central European Statecraft, 1526-1540", her dissertation examined early modern conceptions of diplomatic mobility and immunity as well as the manner in which diplomacy conducted as a family enterprise helped early modern diplomats overcome challenges to their mobility and credibility. Although historians of Renaissance diplomacy have focused chiefly on the development of the resident embassy, her research used diplomatic correspondence and other archivally-preserved materials to argue for the importance of transit and mobility in early modern political communications, and particularly in the construction of secular norms of diplomatic immunity, nascent discourses of territorial sovereignty, and prevailing notions of European political community during the Italian Wars of the early sixteenth century and at the height of Habsburg and Ottoman imperial expansion.

Research for her dissertation was conducted at archives and libraries in Italy, the Vatican, Austria, Hungary, Croatia, and Belgium, and was supported by numerous grants and awards, including the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Fellowship (Italy, Austria, Hungary), the German Marshall Research Fellowship (Austria, Hungary), and the Whiting Foundation Fellowship in the Humanities.

Her fellowship at the Italian Academy focuses on the role of diplomatic networks -- and the mobility they facilitated -- in the transmission of culture, exploring a series of Italian or Italian-educated families engaged in early sixteenth-century anti-Habsburg or anti-Imperial diplomacy, such as the Casali family of Bologna and Rome, who are best-known for soliciting the annulment of English king Henry VIII's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, but who also acted as representatives of Hungarian king János I. Szapolyai for over a decade; or the Rorarii of Friulian Pordenone, whose most famous member and papal nuncio to Hungary, Girolamo, authored a 1548 treatise which was later incorporated into Cartesian debates on animal rationality. During her time at the Italian Academy, Megan will complete several articles which emerged out of her dissertation research and will work on revising her manuscript for publication.

Megan Williams has also been an active participant at Columbia University's interdisciplinary Institute for Social & Economic Research and Policy (ISERP), and has presented her research at a wide range of academic venues in the United States and in Europe. Her teaching experience includes courses on early modern Europe, 1450-1789, and on nineteenth- and twentieth-century Eastern and Central Europe.