Nicholas Terpstra

Nicholas Terpstra

Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Visiting Professor
Ambivalent Neighbours: Measuring & Mapping Early Modern Communal Co-existence
2022-2023 (February)
Nicholas Terpstra


Nicholas Terpstra is Professor of History at the University of Toronto, working at the intersections of politics, religion, gender, and charity. His Cultures of Charity (Harvard: 2013) won the Ruth Goodhart Gordan Book Prize of the Renaissance Society of America and the Howard Marraro Prize of the American Historical Association. Religious Refugees in the Early Modern World (Cambridge: 2016) explores exclusion and exile from the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries and develops a new paradigm for the Reformation, further explored in two volumes on Global Reformations (Routledge: 2019, 2021). He also launched DECIMA (Digitally Encoded Census Information and Mapping Archive) an on-line digital tool that maps social, sensory, and built environments in Renaissance Florence and other Tuscan cities. He currently serves as President of the Renaissance Society of America.

Project Summary

This project explores early modern ambivalence by looking at how a set of early modern cities used spatial and sensory tools to manage social relations between different religious and cultural communities. The project focuses on the interaction of state policy and social realities in Tuscany, which adopted contradictory approaches to co-existence in its three major cities through the early modern period. While Jews were forced into walled ghettos in Florence (1571) and Siena (1573), Muslims, Jews, Greek and Armenian Orthodox, and Dutch and English protestants could navigate with greater or lesser restrictions around the new city of Livorno from the 1590s. Authorities adopted regulations to manage residential and commercial co-existence, yet both they and the communities themselves were also creative and nuanced in using space and sense to keep groups apart and to reinforce traditional hierarchies. The project employs archival research and digital mapping to describe, measure, compare and evaluate the range of spatial, sensory, legal/judicial and ritual tools that shaped intercommunal co-existence in the three cities. It aims to reach beyond legislation to explore the sensory, religious, and ritualistic buffers that Tuscan authorities erected to moderate contacts, reinforce distinctions, and demonstrate publicly their continuing commitment to maintaining a Catholic state. It also aims to capture the ambivalence within diverse communities as they aimed to protect their residents from precisely that state Catholicism, with the larger goal of clarifying the interplay of repression, co-existence, toleration, and ambivalence in the early modern period.