April 4, 2023
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v2.1 Reference

The Maker of Pedigrees

Jakob Wilhelm Imhoff and the Meanings of Genealogy in Early Modern Europe

A history of genealogical knowledge-making strategies in the early modern world.

In The Maker of Pedigrees, Markus Friedrich explores the complex and fascinating world of central European genealogy practices during the Baroque era. Drawing on archival material from a dozen European institutions, Friedrich reconstructs how knowledge about noble families was created, authenticated, circulated, and published. Jakob Wilhelm Imhoff, a wealthy and well-connected patrician from Nuremberg, built a European community of genealogists by assembling a transnational network of cooperators and informants. Friedrich uses Imhoff as a case study in how knowledge was produced and disseminated during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Family lineages were key instruments in defining dynasties, organizing international relations, and structuring social life. Yet in the early modern world, knowledge about genealogy was cumbersome to acquire, difficult to authenticate, and complex to publish. Genealogy's status as a source of power and identity became even more ambivalent as the 17th century wore on, as the field continued to fragment into a plurality of increasingly contradictory formats and approaches. Genealogy became a contested body of knowledge, as a heterogeneous set of actors—including aristocrats, antiquaries, and publishers—competed for authority. Imhoff was closely connected to all of the major genealogical cultures of his time, and he serves as a useful prism through which the complex field of genealogy can be studied in its bewildering richness.

About the Author

Markus Friedrich (HAMBURG, DE) is a professor of early modern European history. He is the author of The Birth of the Archive: A History of Knowledge and The Jesuits: A History.


"Markus Friedrich uses the working life and knowledge practices of an otherwise obscure late seventeenth-century author of genealogical publications, Jakob Wilhelm Imhoff, to probe how genealogical knowledge about Europe's nobilities was constructed. On the basis of masterful research, Friedrich makes intriguing arguments about our understanding of what constitutes a 'family,' about genealogy and self-representation, about the ceremonial and performative behavior of distinction, and about historical narrativity at a critical point in the history of historiography."

- Randolph C. Head, University of California, Riverside, author of Making Archives in Early Modern Europe: Proof, Information and Political Recordkeeping, 1400-1700
Johns Hopkins University Press
Information Cultures
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