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Center forDigital Humanities

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Colin F. Wilder

Title: Co-Director
Center for Digital Humanities
Phone: 803-777-5195
Office: Gambrell Hall 220
Resources: Curriculum Vitae


Colin Wilder is the Associate Director of Center for Digital Humanities at the University of South Carolina. In this capacity, Wilder authors and/or supervises many of the projects under development at the CDH. He is the director (PI) of the Republic of Literature and of the Dirty History Metacrawler (a Linked Open Data R&D project in 2013-2014). Wilder has also collaborated with other scholars, both at the University of South Carolina and beyond, on projects like Global Garibaldi (with Don Doyle, History, USC), the Lost Woman (with Sara Schwebel, English, USC), Plants and Planter (with Kate Boyd, John Nelson and Henry Fulmer, all USC), Huon d'Auvergne (with Steve McCormick, Languages, Literature and Culture, USC) and the Victorian Lives and Letters Consortium (international).

Wilder has been working in Digital Humanities for several years, beginning with constructing his own databases for recording complicated humanities data from his research on the intelligentsia in Germany in the 16th through 18th centuries (an underpinning of the other work described below). More recently Wilder has turned to writing code in Python for data extraction and text analysis of Central European library catalogs. He has presented preliminary results from this at the Sixteenth Century Studies Conference in 2013.


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 the University of Chicago, where he completed his Ph.D. in German history in 2010. Wilder's 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, Wilder's doctoral committee consisted of Constant Fasolt (chair), Michael Geyer and William Sewell.

In between the digital and the humane, Wilder has been working on a book, Property and the German Idea of Freedom (working title, with apologies to Leonard Krieger). 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.

At Chicago and later at Brown University, Wilder taught courses on the Renaissance and Reformation (European Civilization I); the Emergence of Capitalism in Early Modern Europe; and Law, Liberty and Property in European History.

Before turning to History and Digital Humanities, Wilder contrived to obtain a B.A. in Philosophy from Yale, then worked in New York, first as a paralegal at a corporate law firm and then as a financial analyst with a small hedge fund, and finally taught high school mathematics in the Bronx. When considering his checkered past, Wilder sometimes think of what Hugo Grotius once wrote - "there are several ways of living, some better than others, and everyone is free to choose that one which he prefers" (The Law of War and Peace, 1625).

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