CFP: ‘Projects and Projectors in the Early Modern and Enlightenment periods’ (c. 1640-1780)

In the Early Modern and Enlightenment periods the figure of the projector was as vital as it was common. Daniel Defoe famously nicknamed his era the “Projecting Age.” Decades earlier scholars were already commenting on the “rampant passion for schemes”. Projectors were inventors or entrepreneurs ‘who set out to gain the trust and backing of a powerful patron such as a ruler or potential investor, for what he claimed was a financially profitable and generally prestigious original venture which would yield practical benefits.’

Projects varied widely in character and scope and involved almost every type of venture: engineering, mining, ameliorating the condition of the poor and infirm, banking, building, fabricating wonderous machines, and turning base metals into precious ones. More scholarly projects included reforms (or creation) of institutions of higher learning and scientific academies, invariably through substantial outlay of public capital. Projectors also offered rulers solutions for intractable problems, promising these would generate wealth and cure social ills. In Germany, projectors played an instrumental role in the country’s emergent cameralism.

Many of these projects miscarried or proved money-losing ventures. Combining the quest for personal profit with expressed concern for the public good, projectors were often treated with suspicion. The projector emerged as one of the age’s most ambiguous figures: This “homo novus” was a “liminal individual” whose life embodied the “fluid cultural moment when ‘science’ had not yet achieved its preeminent modern position as the sole legitimator of truth, but instead had to compete with a number of other intellectual pursuits”.

We invite proposals for a volume on either projectors and/or projects, edited by Audrey Borowski (University of Oxford) and Mordechai Feingold (Caltech), to be published by Brill.

Topics can cover (but are not limited to):

§ The projector in his milieu/context

§ The strategies of the projector

§ The projector between different worlds/in his multiple identities (courtier, scholar, political agent etc.)

§ Competition between projectors

§ Particular case studies of projectors

§ Projectors and alchemy

§ Projectors and cameralism

§ Projectors and learning/scholarship/philosophy

§ The nexus between commercialism and scientific and technological knowledge

§ The state/court and projecting/projectors

§ Criticism of projectors and attitudes towards projecting

Abstracts should be sent to Audrey Borowski ( and Mordechai Feingold ( by 31 December 2021. Final papers would be expected by 1 June 2022.

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