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College of Arts and Sciences

Faculty and Staff

Colin Wilder

Title: Assistant Professor and Co-Director of the Center for Digital Humanities
Department: History
College of Arts and Sciences
Phone: 803-777-5195
Office: Gambrell Hall, Room 245
Resources: Department of History


  • B.A. in Philosophy, Yale University
  • M.A. in History, University of Chicago
  • Ph.D. in History, University of Chicago


Colin Wilder is Assistant Professor of Digital History as well as Co-Director of the Center for Digital Humanities at USC.

Wilder is by original training an historian of early modern Europe, specifically early modern legal and political thought. He received his PhD from the University of Chicago in 2010, with his BA from Yale University before that.

Wilder's scholarly research focuses on the development of ideas of liberty and equality in German and broader European history in the Early Modern period (ca 1500-1800). This has included, for instance, research into the origins of "inalienable" and "imprescriptible" rights in the natural law tradition and the promulgation of paper financial instruments in German states after the Thirty Years' War. Wilder began this line of research at Chicago. His doctoral doctoral thesis explored the development of natural and civil rights as well as the growth of theories of liberty and equality in the Holy Roman Empire, especially in the region of Hesse, between the Reformation and the Enlightenment.

At Chicago and later at Brown and here at USC, Wilder has developed two teaching specializations. One of these is legal history; at Chicago, he developed a course entitled “Law, Liberty, and Property in European History.” His second teaching specialty is the history of capitalism. At Brown and here at USC, Wilder has taught several courses in this area, including “The Emergence of Capitalism in Early Modern Europe”; “Prosperity and Poverty - The History, Ethics and Economics of National Wealth and Resources”; and here at USC, HIST 377: “Business In Historical Perspective / The History of American Capitalism” (taught in Spring 2015). 


Joining the History Department in Autumn 2016, Wilder will teach undergraduate and graduate courses in Digital History, while continuing to serve as Co-Director of CDH. As presently conceived, there will be one undergraduate Digital History course per year and one graduate Digital History course per year. Both of them will combine an overview of the field of Digital Humanities / Digital History with a training in computer programming and data curation methods using the Python programming language.

(See below for description of Digital History course at USC, 2016-2017.)

Wilder’s current book project, with apologies to Leonard Krieger, is entitled Property and the German Idea of Freedom. In it, he argues that liberal ideas and institutions (defined by respect for individual rights) showed a marked development in Germany in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This thesis will challenge present notions that pre-modern Germany was exceptionally anti-liberal, and, by implication, that early English liberalism was truly exceptional. Ideas about freedom and individual rights in Germany did not originate in salons and coffeehouses. Rather, the context of "the German idea of freedom" was disputes over property rights. The four basic parts of the book show how kinds of property became prototypes of ideas of freedom, how states spread individual civil rights to more and more of their subjects, how jurists developed the idea of natural rights from out of practical affairs, and finally how states promulgated new paper financial instruments which brought with them a new degree of civil liberty. These narratives are contextualized within German and European history, but also within an analytic framework of positive and negative liberty and theories of states of nature and civil society.

Wilder also has ongoing digital projects that connect to his book and article work. The Dirty History Crawler and Republic of Literature are both attempts to collect and analyze “big data” for historians, specifically data about authors, texts, and publishing in the German republic of letters and traditions of textual commentary going back to the Middle Ages. Index Iuris, a third project, is a meta-archive of medieval legal history sources. Finally, Wilder is also one of the directors of and technical lead for the Victorian Lives and Letters Consortium, an international endeavor to digitize, electronically publish, and transcribe vast amounts of manuscript Victorian life writing. But that is another story.


Some of Wilder's older work including papers and parts of his dissertation can be found at