HTC Talks: Caroline Murphy: The Architecture of Political Economy: Rivers, Infrastructure, and Power in the Early Modern World


In the early modern period, Europe’s consolidating territorial and imperial states faced the task of planning and administering environments on a much broader scale than ever before. Toggling between the Italian peninsula—a site of precocious processes of state formation—and the wider world, this talk explores how these challenges gave rise to an ecological conception of statecraft in the late sixteenth century, which had at its core a political-economic theory of infrastructure as a form of circulatory capitalist architecture. Tracing these ideas as they were synthesized in the writings of Giovanni Botero (ca. 1544–1617), a late-Renaissance political-economic theorist and global geographer, the talk will contextualize these proleptic dreams of infrastructural power, premised specifically on rivers and waterways, against the backdrop of a flood crisis in Italy, the expansion of overseas empire, and the reception of new sources of empirical knowledge about environments and terraforming in European colonies and contact zones. Beyond revealing the roots of infrastructural thinking typically associated with later Enlightenment modernities, this exploration shows that early political economy was understood as a fundamentally material and architectural enterprise.



Caroline Murphy is an Assistant Professor of History at Villanova University. She researches and teaches about the interconnected visual, material, and intellectual histories of architecture, state administration, ecology, and political economy in early modern Europe and its global contact zones. Her current scholarship focuses on the work of alluvial and territorial planning in Italy on the eve of the Little Ice Age. Centering questions of scale, design, crisis, and power, this work explores how consolidating peninsular states sought to transform landscapes of unruly rivers into viable communication infrastructures to interconnect their territories and partake of the fruits of early globalization. Murphy’s work has been supported by fellowships from MIT, the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts, the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max Planck Institut, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. She recently completed her PhD in History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art from MIT.