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Mark Häberlein

Mark Häberlein is Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Bamberg, Germany, where he has been teaching since 2004. He received his doctorate from the University of Augsburg in 1991 and completed his Habilitation at the University of Freiburg in 1996. He was awarded a Gerhard Hess Prize of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Association) and a Feodor Lynen Fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in 1999. His research focuses on long-distance migration, the religious and social history of early America, religious minorities and merchant communities in the early modern period. Among his book publications are The Fuggers of Augsburg: Pursuing Wealth and Honor in Renaissance Germany (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012) and The Practice of Pluralism: Congregational Life and Religious Diversity in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1730-1820 (University Park, Pa.: Penn State University Press, 2009).

The Strange Career of Johann Matthias Kramer – Migration, Language, and the Circulation of Information in Eighteenth-Century Central Europe


The career of Johann Matthias Kramer, which this paper examines, oscillated between two apparently rather different professions. While he worked as a language teacher in various cities, he was also active as an emigration agent who recruited German settlers for the infant English colony in Georgia in the 1730s and published a promotional tract on the colony in 1746. His career led him from his native city of Nuremberg to Philadelphia in 1731, then back across the Atlantic to Rotterdam, Hamburg and Göttingen, where he taught Italian at the university from 1746 to 1753, and it terminated in Pennsylvania in the mid-1750s.

Kramer’s transatlantic biography serves to to illustrate some of the links between language, migration, and the circulation of information in the eighteenth century. I argue that language teachers and emigration agents shared several structural similarities. Both were highly mobile persons who lacked formal training and often had to adjust to new environments. Language instructors as well as emigration agents faced stiff competition, and while both served certain needs in an increasingly mobile society, they had rather dubious reputations.

On a more general level, the career of Johann Matthias Kramer highlights some of the economic, social and cultural links that tied eighteenth-century central Europe to Great Britain’s Atlantic empire. More than 100,000 people from German-speaking lands crossed the Atlantic between 1683 and 1775, most of them entering the colonies through the port of Philadelphia. A number of enterprising individuals – German merchants in American port cities, businessmen travelling back and forth between Europe and the colonies, and emigration agents operating between Switzerland, the Rhineland and Rotterdam, the major port of emigration – sought to profit from this flow of migrants. Religious institutions and communities like the Glaucha orphanage founded by the Lutheran pietist August Hermann Francke, Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf’s Moravian Brethren, and the Mennonite community in Amsterdam also contributed to the complexity of these transatlantic ties: They sent missionaries overseas, established regular trans-Atlantic communication channels, and engaged in business ventures of their own. While my account of Johann Matthias Kramer’s career builds on these insights into an increasingly interconnected Atlantic world, it also seeks to add some new facets to it.