Prof Zoltan Biedermann

Prof Zoltan Biedermann

Professor of Early Modern History


Faculty of Arts & Humanities

Joined UCL
1st Sep 2013

Research summary

Zoltán Biedermann is a historian of early global interactions occurring in the context of "European expansion" especially in Asia. He joined the college in 2013 to help set up the Portuguese and Brazilian Studies programme while also expanding the provision of historical contents. His focus is on early modern diplomacy, imperial ideas, travel writing, material culture, cartography and spatial politics, particularly in settings involving the Portuguese, but also other Europeans including Spanish, Dutch, English and French travellers and agents of empire. He is the author of (Dis)connected Empires: Imperial Portugal, Sri Lankan Diplomacy, and the Making of a Habsburg Conquest in Asia (2018), The Portuguese in Sri Lanka and South India (2014), The Historical Atlas of the Persian Gulf (2006) and Soqotra: Geschichte einer christlichen Insel im Indischen Ozean (2006). He has also recently co-edited Global Gifts: the Material Culture of Diplomacy in Early Modern Eurasia (with Giorgio Riello and Anne Gerritsen, Cambridge University Press, 2018), Sri Lanka at the Crossroads of History (with Alan L. Strathern, UCL Press, 2017) and From the Supernatural to the Uncanny (with Stephen M. Hart, Cambridge Scholars, 2017). 

In 2019, he published, together with the Portuguese historian and political activist Rui Tavares, a short public history book exploring the early apogee of Portugal and its empire (1535: Portugal, uma Retrospectiva, Tinta da China / O Público, 2019). He is now preparing a book on indigenous voices and agencies in early modern travel literature and cartography, and working towards a larger book project to trace the conceptual origins of early modern globalisation through local diplomatic encounters in Asia, Africa and the Americas.

Beyond his core research, he teaches topics in Comparative Literature and has been involved in the making of the short films "Flying and Spying: a Renaissance Dream Comes True" (Know It Wall, 2016) and "Austerlitz London," (Henrietta Williams, 2017). Both are available online.

Teaching summary

Prof Biedermann teaches the undergraduate modules "Introduction to Portuguese Literature", "Art and Empire in the Iberian World", "The Golden Age of Portuguese Travel Literature", and "Portugal and its Empire in the 20th Century: Trajectories and Memories". Earlier teachings include "The Power of Maps", "Iberian Empires and the Early Modern World", "History of the Portuguese Empire, 1400-1800", "Describing the Exotic in the Iberian Renaissance", and "Advanced Portuguese". He also teaches and supervises work on the MA Early Modern Studies (Cartography) and the MA Comparative Literature (Literary Cartographies). 

Prof Biedermann welcomes PhD proposals on the history of Portugal, its empire, and its diaspora, as well as Early Modern global history, diplomatic history, and cartographic history. 

Current and recently concluded PhD supervisions:

  • Umair Ahmed, Queering Anglo-Mughal Diplomacy, 1600-1660 (provisional title)
  • Elizabeth Chant, Demystifying Desolation: Representing Patagonian Nature, 1745-1956 (co-supervision with Prof Claire Lindsay, concluded 2021)
  • Joseph Matthew Da Costa, Decoloniality and early colonial thought. Grammar and Cartography in the era of Portuguese expansion (co-supervision with Dr Toby Green, KCL, concluded 2019)
  • Beatriz Salamanca Charria, Placing Mobile Identities: Freedom to Wander and the Right to Travel in Early Modern Spain and Spanish America (subsidiary supervision with Dr Alexander Samson, concluded 2019)
  • Marina Thomé Bezzi, History, geography and colonial expansion in the works of Richard Hakluyt and Lancelot Voisin de la Popelinière (co-supervision with Thibaut Maus de Rolley, concluded 2019)


Zoltán Biedermann (PhD, École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris / Universidade Nova de Lisboa, 2006) has come to UCL from Birkbeck College, where he was Lecturer in Iberian Studies from 2009 to 2013. He has also taught at the EHESS in Paris (Maître de conférences invité, 2015), Brown University (Visiting Assistant Professor, 2012) and the Universidade Nova de Lisboa (CIEE Visiting Assistant Professor, 2008), and was an Ahmanson-Getty post-doctoral fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles in 2006-07. Between 2003 and 2006 he coordinated the international research project "Historical Cartography of the Persian Gulf" at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris.  

He has been involved in numerous collaborative research projects, including "Global History and Microhistory" (AHRC - Oxford, Florence and Warwick), "Trópicos letrados: textos y prácticas eruditas del clero en los espacios del imperio portugués de la edad moderna (1580-1750)" and" Letras de Frailes: escritas franciscanas en el imperio portugués" (both at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid), "O Governo dos Outros" (ICS, Universidade de Lisboa), "Comentarios de Don García de Silva y Figueroa" (Universidade Nova de Lisboa) and "MEDIAN" (Agence Nationale de la Recherche, Paris). He produced the historical index of the new edition of Fernão Mendes Pinto's Peregrinação (Lisbon, 2010). He was on the Scientific Committees of the 4th, 5th and 6th Ibero-American Conference on the History of Cartography (Lisbon, 2012; Bogotá, 2014; Santiago de Chile, 2016). He is also a co-editor of the Maritime Asia book series at the German publisher Harrassowitz and a Board Member of Tamesis Books. 

He is attached to the Portuguese Centre for Global History (CHAM - now Centre for the Humanities) and the Centre for Early Modern Exchanges at UCL. He is the recipient of the Ronald Tress Prize for Research Excellence (2012) and has been elected a corresponding member of the Academy of the Portuguese Marine. He became a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in May 2019.