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William O’Reilly

William O’Reilly has worked on a range of topics in early modern European and Atlantic history, and is particularly interested in the history of European migration, colonialism and imperialism. His current research project, with the working title Surviving empire. The translation of imperial context in a globalizing world, 1550-1800, explores the inter-relationship of European imperialisms from the later sixteenth century to the French revolution.

An early modern Historian at the University of Cambridge, William studied and later taught at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and took his DPhil at the University of Oxford. He has been a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study, Budapest, at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University; Visiting Fellow at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest, and at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna.

Out-sourcing an empire? German migration, colonialism and discourses of difference in 18th-century Hungary, Russia and North America.


This paper will assess the writings of German-speaking migrants to Hungary, Russia and America in the long eighteenth century as well as the writings of political economists and state theoreticians to offer an analysis of Central European views of immigration and emigration in the contexts of emerging second-wave colonialism and imperialism, both within continental Europe and in America. The paper examines whether German colonial ambition in the eighteenth century was „outsourced,” resulting in a contemporary academic reflection on German colonialism which was only set in practice in the nineteenth century.

In Central Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, the term ‘Peuplierung’ meant simply settlement, population or colonization; in the Habsburg lands, the term Impopulation was used synonymously. No clear, defined, programme of settlement and colonization existed within Germany, no more than it did for territories outside the Empire; rather there was a tendency to see an increase in population as something to be actively encouraged. It was for reasons of state, economy and political philosophy that writers in Central Europe came to address the issue of Peuplierung.

The qualitative aspect of this politics of people expressed itself in the way in which people came to be seen as „human capital.” For its part, emigration was viewed with differing levels of distrust in Central Europe. States were obliged to address the inter-related concerns of retaining a strong domestic workforce whilst also attempting to plant their own and others colonies with skilled and loyal subjects – or watch as their subjects and citizens emigrated in droves to America, Hungary and Russia in the long eighteenth century.

A ‘dispeopling’ of the home country was thus feared; notwithstanding, German colonists were recognised as essential to the maintenance of bulwark colonial societies, given the critical importance of perceived demographic uncertainty at the heart of emerging empires.