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Prof. Dr. Christoph Witzenrath

Research Field of Prof. Dr. Christoph Witzenrath:

Most dependent people in early modern Eurasia enjoyed a varying scope of action that they could often increase over time. This reseadrch field adopts a broad comparative approach, covering Eurasia (put briefly, from the Arctic and Pacific to the Stanovoi, Altai and Black Sea; and beyond, to connected areas in the Middle East, India and China). It compares forms and scopes of asymmetrical dependency, as well as the interrelation of social, political, religious and economic impact in both a diachronic and regional perspective, including transregional relations.

Central Aims

Research in this field starts from the hypothesis that the unique impact of steppe practices shaped forms of asymmetrical dependency and slavery in connected regions of Eurasia.

(1) Eurasia: This topic studies discrete states and practices of dependency from slave raids waged in the early modern period mostly by steppe dwellers to forms of dependency following manumission (such as patronage). A comparative reading of sources (local Ottoman, Russian or Persian archival materials) helps trace individuals and their "dependency careers" between imperial and religiously defined centers competing for their loyalty.

(2) Collective dependency: This topic assesses the relations of defense as continued nomadic practices, social and spatial mobility ‘inside’ fortified spaces and dependency. Local studies on serfs and mutual agency are feasible in diverse geographic spaces and trends, such as under-researched monastic enterprises, selling Caucasus serfs, Petrine forced labor projects and serf scope during the 18th-century "agricultural revolution".

(3) Tales of manumission: This topic examines the integration of dependency and manumission into imperial narratives and administrative languages (such as in the Russian Empire), which (de-)legitimized asymmetrical dependency, as well as into religious texts, chronicles, literature, and life writing by manumitted slaves.

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