Our featured graduate student this month is Rachel Midura, PhD candidate in the Department of History and fellow at the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis. Anne's research for her dissertation focuses on the postal, political, and information networks of Northern Italy from 1550 to 1720. With the support of a research grant from The Europe Center, Rachel traveled to archives in Milan, Bergamo, and London in December and January of 2016-2017 to explore their collections of notarial documents and inter-postal agreements.
In the archives, Rachel focused on the post office of Milan in the years 1590-1620 as a hub for the Imperial, Spanish, and Venetian posts. At the literal crossroads of the Habsburg European Empire, the post office of Milan faced a turning point with the death of Ruggiero Tasso, the last direct heir to one of the most powerful postal entrepreneurs in history, Simone Tasso. Ruggiero’s widow, with the aid of her postal lieutenant Ottavio Codogno, fought to maintain her rights and those of her minor sons, earning enmity among local political figures who dubbed her “capricious.” While only treated glancingly in the current historiography, there are hundreds of notarial documents related to this period and at least one major inter-postal agreement in 1604 with the Venetian Company of Couriers that suggest that Lucina Cataneo Tasso was an accomplished administrator in her own right. Another document of great interest is a postal itinerary that Codogno published in defiance of the prevailing culture of state secrecy. Rachel hopes to compile a comprehensive case study of the information politics navigated by postal administrators, who, despite official proscriptions, often acted as free agents, fueling local struggles between competing loyalties with potentially far-reaching consequences. Rachel will be presenting on the impact of postal infrastructure on the travel of British tourists at the Grand Tour workshop at Stanford. When she returns to her overseas research, she’ll focus on how the individual communication hubs rose and fell in prominence, and how the network as a whole survived the ravages of the Thirty Years’ War.