Nicholas Popper joined the William and Mary faculty in 2009. He specializes in early modern British history with a particular focus on intersections between intellectual and political culture and on the transmission of political and scholarly practices across Britain, continental Europe, and the Atlantic World.
His forthcoming monograph, entitled The Specter of the Archive: Political Practice and the Information State in Early Modern Britain (due out in late 2023 from University of Chicago Press) argues that the expanded collection of political records and writings fueled political transformations from the Elizabethan era to the early eighteenth century. A wide range of early modern Britons – from elite counselors to aspiring clerks to ordinary subjects – eagerly acquired manuscripts and print works generated by the maelstrom of recording and preservation accelerating in this period. Their archives, the book shows, became sites of knowledge production analogous to the cabinets of curiosities, gardens, and museums that have drawn so much attention from early modern European historians. And the rampant circulation of political papers out of such collections, it argues, drove early modern Britain’s transformation into a complex media society, in which individuals’ political and epistemological attachments were conditioned by their information networks and communication practices.
His first book, Walter Ralegh's History of the World and the Historical Culture of the Late Renaissance, which was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2012, examines how practices of studying the past transformed the political and intellectual cultures of early modern Europe. It argues that community-driven practices – rather than a nascent epistemology of historicist consciousness – guided the most significant intellectual developments of early modernity.
He has also co-edited two collections: with Ann Blair, New Horizons for Early Modern European Scholarship (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2021); and, with Anthony Grafton and William Sherman, Gabriel Harvey and the History of Reading: Essays by Lisa Jardine and Others (London: University College London Press, 2024). He has also published articles and book chapters on early modern topics ranging from natural history to travel methods to histories of stargazing to perceptions of warfare.
Since 2022, he has been Interim Editor of Books at the Omohundro Institute for Early American History and Culture. Prior to appointment to that position, he was Book Review Editor of the William and Mary Quarterly since 2017.
Through these roles he has developed a broad range of expertise in Atlantic histories, and he is currently exploring the possibilities of future monographs on social thought and political practice in the early modern British Atlantic, on the collections of James Logan, and on the global information circuits of early modern Britain.
He teaches undergraduate and graduate classes on European and British history, history of science, history of knowledge, history of the book, and early modern intellectual history. He encourages interested potential students to be in contact; his previous and ongoing PhD advisees have typically explored some element of the History of Knowledge in early modern Britain and/or the Atlantic World, and he is open to working with students within and at the borders of these categories.