Kuersteiner, Sarina

Field: Medieval Europe; Advisor: Kosto & Şenocak; Year: 2014

Sarina Kuersteiner is a PhD candidate in history at Columbia University, with a focus on medieval Mediterranean and Italian studies. Her work engages traditional subjects of economic, social and legal history with interdisciplinary and intercultural approaches, informed by theories and methods of musicology, art history, media studies and psychology.

Her research on notions of risk and insurance in Mediterranean trade has developed into a broader consideration of the role of medieval notaries not only as recorders of the legal infrastructure, but also as shapers of it. Her dissertation, “At the Margins of Notarial Registers: Desire Before Capitalism in Medieval Italy, 1200-1353,” examines notions of desire in the registers of medieval notaries who, charged with the writing of various acts, became a numerous professional group, particularly in the northern communes of thirteenth-century Italy. Notaries not only wrote contracts, but also entered prayers, music, and images, as well as poetry meant to be accompanied by music and danced to, into their registers. Analyzing commercial acts alongside these cultural media, her dissertation shows how notaries linked diverse discourses on desire to the issue of desire for financial gain. Despite – and because of – its alterity, medieval notarial culture also helps us to understand how processes of desiring changed at the threshold to capitalism.

Her research is supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation, where she is a fellow for the academic year 2019-2020. For the fellowship year, she has an institutional affiliation with the University of Parma (Italy). In the past, her research has been supported by a Research Fellowship from the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life at Columbia University, by a Jerrold Seigel Summer Fellowship in Intellectual and Cultural History from the Center for European and Mediterranean Studies (New York University) and by the Swiss Study Foundation.


MASTER OF PHILOSOPHY (M.Phil.) in History – Columbia University, New York, United States (2017)

MASTER OF ARTS (MA) in History – Columbia University, New York, United States (2016)

MASTER OF ARTS (MA) in History and German Literature – University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland/ exchange year at the University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles (UCLA), United States (2014)

BACHELOR OF ARTS (BA) in general History and Linguistic & Literature – University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland (2012)


Sarina has served as co-president of the Graduate History Association at Columbia University (2015-2016). She is one of the co-founders of the public history project “Medievalist Toolkit,” awarded a History in Action Program Award by Columbia University (2018). With the Medievalist Toolkit, the project group aims to make their knowledge about the Middle Ages useful and accessible to popular audiences, specifically to journalists whose reporting touches upon medieval themes.