Copenhagen (1500–1800): negotiations of privacy in the nexus be­tween ruler and citizens

Copenhagen is not only the physical seat of the Centre for Privacy Studies, it is also the case study with a research period spanning the entire early modern period. A research focus on Copenhagen thus offers us the opportunity to study in detail the changes that occurred from a time in which the ever-expanding early modern state used the Lutheran Reformation to discipline and control its citizens, to a time in which the merits and problems of ‘the private’ was publicly debated.

Copenhagen, the largest Nordic city was the centre of the Double Monarchy, and the interdisciplinary case study promises to shed new light on its continuous undertaking to become a modern society. Our case study traces the changing reception of what the early modern ‘private’ individual was taken to be and in what way this individual was thought to live, love, and trade in Copenhagen. With this, we aim to contribute to our modern understanding of ‘privacy’.

This is even more enticing, because Copenhagen in its architectural, legal, social, and philosophical significance is rarely examined in Anglophone historical studies. The Centre is going to change this.

Our case-team has several connected collaborative research agendas

  • Catalyst for an understanding of the changes that occurred is our study of the terminology and concept of ‘the private’ in Copenhagen newspapers from 1673-1800. The ‘long eighteenth century’ saw the rise of public discourse. Through the Newspaper Project we can trace the emergence and development of public debates – often conducted through so-called ‘private dispatches’ – on private enterprise, private interests, or the merits of private happiness and private virtue at the early beginning of liberalism and industrialisation.

  • The case study also examines several topics in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. From housing and gardens in Nyboder to the professionalising of the central administration at the Royal Chancellery, and to Arnisæus’ philosophical discourse on the body of the monarch and the city

  • Our activities allow us to trace the shifting demarcation line between public and private as well as the meandering discourse on what the private was supposed to be.


Jesper Jacobsen and Lars Cyril Nørgaard.