Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Lehrstuhl für Europäische Geschichte der Frühen Neuzeit

Dr. Alan Ross

Carrdus, Review Daum's boys, WBN.pdf
Dr. Alan Ross
Post-Doc Fellow der Humboldt Graduate School
alan.ross (at)

Research fields:

Cultural history

Social history

History of science and scholarship

History of childhood and education

History of animals


Current research project:

Beloved foreigner: simians in early modern Europe


Long before Darwin, simians (monkeys and apes) were the most important reference point in the animal kingdom against which Europeans could define what it meant to be ‘human’. My second book is the first modern cultural history to examine the dramatic changes in the relationship between Europeans and simians that took place between the 15th and 19th centuries.

Unlike previous studies, which have largely focused on the symbolism of monkeys in art and literature and the pre-history of primatology, my study is a history of contact between our two species (Haraway 2008). My book is structured to a) follow the life-cycle of the animals from birth in their native territories to their deaths in Europe and b) describe chronologically the major developments of their appropriation in European culture – as pets, in popular entertainment and their afterlife as anatomical specimens and in cabinets of curiosities – between the first wave of colonial expansion and the dawn of Darwinism. By utilising archival case studies in Germany, France and Great Britain, my book will examine these changes from the perspective of international trade and the expanding contacts with South East Asia, South America and Central Africa.

Though my research is about simians, the project has implications which will contribute directly to our understanding of early modern European identity. The arrival of the first apes in the mid-17th century irreversibly challenged European scholars’ sense of security that a firm boundary between man and beast existed and contributed significantly to a long-term uncertainty which turned on its head the Galenic and Vesalian theories of the relationship between man and beast. The contextualisation of this growing insecurity, which remained salient right up until and after Darwin’s theory of evolution, will be the main contribution of my book.


Biographical note:

Alan S. Ross is a social and cultural historian of early modern Europe with particular interests in the history of childhood and animals. A citizen of New Zealand, he studied in Berlin, London, Oxford, Cracow, Geneva and Göttingen. During his Oxford D Phil, Ross was Mary Starun Scholar in Polish Studies at Hertford College for three years. After postdoctoral fellowships at the Klassik Stiftung in Weimar and the University of Göttingen (Humboldt Foundation) and teaching posts at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, he joined the Lehrstuhl für Europäische Geschichte der Frühen Neuzeit in 2013. His first book explores the cultural role of schools in early modern towns and their contribution to European scholarship on the basis of one of the largest bodies of material left behind by any 17th century German scholar: the papers of the rector of the Zwickau Latin school, Christian Daum (1612-1687). His current research project is a cultural history of simians (monkeys and apes) in early modern Europe.


Recent publications (selection):


Daum's boys - schools and the Republic of Letters in early modern Germany
(Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2015)
Cover image Daum's boys, May 2015.png
Reviews for Daum's boys:

'If only we had more such studies as this.'
Dirk van Miert, History of Humanities 1 no. 2 (2016) (mehr)

' ... a treasury of local documents and assiduous research.'
Paul F. Grendler, Renaissance Quarterly 69 no. 3 (2016)
‘[A] fine work of historical scholarship ...’
Valentina Tikoff, European History Quarterly 47(3)

'Beyond a concise description of German intellectual life
and pedagogy, Ross provides historians with a challenging
thesis about postwar vitality and resilience. Scholars who
have relied on a model of post-Westphalian authoritarianism
and cultural decline will need to address this important
example of institutional variety and autonomy.'

Joel F. Harrington, American Historical Review 122 no. 5 (2017)

'Numerous histories of individual schools exist but - as far as I know - few are recent and none is as richly detailed or as engaging as this one. I think and hope it will inspire comparative research into other German schools of the same period and thus increase our understanding of their importance in the history of European culture.'
Anna Carrdus, Wolfenbütteler Barocknachrichten 42 (2015) (mehr)
‘Ross hat mit „Daum’s boys“ eine rundum gelungene, profund recherchierte Studie vorgelegt ... Er hat einen wichtigen Beitrag zur Erforschung des Bildungswesens in der Frühen Neuzeit geleistet.’
Alexander Winkler, H-Soz-Kult, 14.03.2017 (mehr)
'[une] ouvrage aussi passionnant que concis ... sa qualité: la richesse du dossier archivistique et de l’approche choisie, du caractère ambitieux des questions posées et, enfin, de leur grand intérêt autant pour l’histoire de l’éducation que pour celle de la République des Lettres ou du Saint-Empire romain germanique.'
Sébastien Schick, Annales Histoire Sciences sociales 71 no. 3 (2016)
'... un portrait riche et finement dessiné'
Willem Frijhoff, Francia-Recensio 2016, 4


Co-edited with T. Gromelski, C. Preusse, D. Tricoire: Early modern European empires: the Holy Roman Empire and Poland-Lithuania in comparison (Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz, 2016)


Special issue Preserving the animal body – cultures of scholarship and display, 1660-1914, forthcoming in the Journal of Social History, no. 52/3, Spring 2019.


Co-edited with P. Wilczek (principal editor), M.Choptiany, J. Koryl: The Reformation in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and its European context - research postulates/ Reformacja w dawnej Rzeczpospolitej i jej europejskie konteksty - postulaty badawcze (Warsaw, Sub Lupa Press, 2010)


‘Introduction’, Special issue Preserving the animal body – cultures of scholarship and display, 1660-1914, forthcoming in the Journal of Social History no. 52/3, 2019, 18 pages.


‘Recycling embryos. Old specimens in new museums, 1660-1840’. Special issue Preserving the animal body – cultures of scholarship and display, 1550-1914, forthcoming in the Journal of Social History no. 52/3, 2019, 24 pages.


‘School and Education’, in A. French, Early Modern Childhood: An Introduction (Abingdon, Routledge, forthcoming 2018)


'Learning by wrong-doing: aspiration and transgression among German pupils after
the Thirty Years’ War’, Social History 40:2 (2015), 230-246


'Pupils' choices and social mobility after the Thirty Years' War - a quantitative study', Historical Journal 57:2 (2014) 311-341

'"Da hingegen bei uns fast ein jedes Land und Ort sich ein besonderes machet..." - Zentrum und Peripherie im bildungsgeschichtlichen Kontext am Beispiel der kursächsischen Stadt Zwickau im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert', Historisches Jahrbuch 131 (2011), 263-283


'Masterless children during the Thirty Years' War', L. Brockliss, H. Montgomery, Childhood, violence and the Western tradition (Oxford, Oxbow, 2010), 241-247


'The Colbovius Sendbrief and the Reception of Comenian pedagogy in Saxony', S. Chocholová, M. Pánková, M. Steiner, Johannes Amos Comenius - The Legacy to the Culture of Education (Prague, Charles University Press, 2009), 134-141