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Joel Harrington

Centennial Professor of History
Professor of German, Russian, and East European Studies

I am a historian of Europe, specializing in early modern Germany (ca. 1450-1750), with research interests in various legal and religious aspects of social history.

My most recent book is Dangerous Mystic: Meister Eckhart’s Path to the God Within (Penguin Press, 2018; German edition: Siedler Verlag. 2021).  In 2020, Dangerous Mystic was honored with a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. My previous monograph, The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2013), has been translated into fourteen languages and was named one of the Best Books of 2013 by The Telegraph and History Today. Other publications include The Unwanted Child: The Fate of Foundlings, Orphans, and Juvenile Criminals in Early Modern Germany (University of Chicago Press, 2009), winner of the 2010 Roland H. Bainton Prize for History; Reordering Marriage and Society in Reformation Germany (Cambridge University Press, 1995; paperback 2005), one of Choice’s Outstanding Academic Titles of 1996; and three edited books on names in early modern Germany, a sixteenth-century executioner's journal, and the history of western Christianity.  Projects currently underway include a study of the sixteenth-century mercenary Hans Staden, who published an influential account of his captivity among the Tupinambá of Brazil, including graphic accounts of ritual cannibalism.

My research has been supported by awards from the J.S. Guggenheim Foundation, the Fulbright-Hayes Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the American Philosophical Society, and others. I’ve lectured widely in North America and Europe and have resided as a visiting fellow at the American Academy in Berlin, Herzog August Bibliothek (Wolfenbüttel), Huntington Library, Institut für Geschichte der Medizin (Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg), and Clare College (Cambridge).

I’ve served in leadership positions in various professional organizations, including as president of the Frühe Neuzeit Interdisziplinär and as an executive board member of the Comité Internationale des Sciences Historiques (since 2015).  I’m currently co-editor of Studies in Early Modern German History (University of Virginia Press), as well as a member of the advisory board of Studies in Germany History (Oxford University Press).  I’ve also served on the editorial board of several journals, including the Journal of Modern History and the Renaissance Quarterly. My university service includes a variety of administrative positions at Vanderbilt, most notably as Chair of the History Department (2014-2018), Associate Provost for Global Strategy (2004-2011), and Director of the Center for European Studies (2000-2004).

I’ve taught a variety of subjects since my arrival at Vanderbilt in 1989, including undergraduate courses on the History of Christian Traditions, Crime and Punishment in Early Modern Europe, Religion and the Occult in Early Modern Europe, and Reformation Europe, as well as various graduate courses in social and cultural history.