DECIMA receives third major grant from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada

While the DECIMA project has received funding from a variety of agencies and foundations, it originated and has steadily expanded thanks to the generous support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).  Our first grant from 2011-15 on “Sex and the Sacred: Negotiating Boundaries in Renaissance Florence” allowed us to create DECIMA by entering the data from the 1561 Decima tax census and georeferenced this to Stefano Buonsignori’s 1584 map. 

Our second SSHRC grant in 2015-19 on “Space, Mobility, and Socio-Economic Networks:  Digital Mapping of Early Modern Florence” funded the expansion of DECIMA with data from the 1551 and 1632 city censuses, an upgrading of the web portal, and the hiring of post-doctoral fellows Justine Walden and Daniel Jamison.

In March 2019, we received word that DECIMA has received a third major SSHRC grant on “Ambivalent Neighbours:  Measuring and Mapping Cross-Cultural Co-Existence in the Early Modern State” covering the period 2019-23.  With this grant, we will expand beyond Florence to begin comparative mapping in Livorno and Siena, with a continuing focus on exploring the intersections between spatial, sensory, and social history.  The full description is given below.

We’re particularly happy that our 2015 grant was ranked #2 nationally among all SSHRC submissions in its category, while the 2019 grant was ranked #1. 


Ambivalent Neighbours:  Measuring and Mapping Cross-Cultural Co-existence in the Early Modern State

How did the spaces of early modern cities condition social relations between different religious groups?  How did authorities aim to use space and sense to keep these groups apart, and how did members of those groups work with, around, and against these boundaries?  How might digital tools allow us to measure and map these issues?  Early modern Tuscany offers a unique example to answer these questions as it was the site of two well-documented and apparently contradictory approaches employing space and sense to shape social relations between Christians, Jews, and Muslims.  Relations between these different groups became increasingly tense across Europe from the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries due to religious and political developments, military conflicts, and economic competition.  Tuscan authorities developed walled residential ghettos for Jews in Florence and Siena from 1570, while allowing Jews and members of other religious communities, including eventually Muslims, to live and move freely around the new city of Livorno from the 1590s.  To date no comparative project has juxtaposed these to ask how they reveal early modern anxieties and ambivalence about communal co-existence.  This research project will use archival research and digital mapping to describe, measure, compare and evaluate the range of spatial, sensory, legal/judicial and ritual tools that shaped co-existence in these three cities.  Livorno became arguably the most open city on the Mediterranean, while Florence and Siena were paradigms of the enclosed ghetto, with their gates remaining in place until after the Napoleonic invasions of 1799.  Their differences expose the ambivalence characterizing early modern experiments in cross cultural co-existence.  Beyond urbanistic practicalities, authorities had to confront the challenge to their own political legitimacy posed by permitting the co-existence of religious ‘aliens’.  Tuscan officials did so by extending a series of sensory, religious, and ritualistic buffers that moderated contacts, reinforced distinctions, and that demonstrated publicly their continuing commitment to maintaining a Catholic state.  Drawing on archival materials and digital tools, this project will demonstrate how Tuscan authorities organized and rationalized this distinction, how the three urban populations responded, and how this clarifies the interplay of repression, co-existence, and toleration in the early modern period generally.       


This project will make an original contribution in three areas:  First, it will examine the financial strategies used to construct both the Florentine and Sienese ghettos and the new city of Livorno, demonstrating the critical role played by charitable and religious institutions like hospitals and confraternities to fund construction in all three cities.  Second, it will assess how authorities used sensory tools (ie., noises, smells, visual images and structures), charitable institutions, and religious rituals in order to reinforce and publicize Tuscany’s Catholic identity and to control and limit contacts between different groups. These reinforced distinctions between Jews and Christians in Florence and Siena, and maintained the social segregation of Jews, Muslims, and Protestants in Livorno that co-existence threatened to erode.  Third, it will digital tools to construct and demonstrate key points of the argument (including mapping demographic and urbanistic expansion, institutional investment strategies, residential patterns, and population movements), and to share these with scholars, students, and a broader public.  The project will both build on and significantly expand an online digital database and mapping tool (DECIMA) that was first developed and expanded under SSHRC grants and international collaborations.



This project is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada

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