Exactly how free ports arose in early-modern Europe is still subject to debate. Livorno, Genoa and other Italian cities became famous as major examples of a particular way of attracting trade. Between the late eighteenth and the nineteenth century the existence of free ports – as specific fiscal, cultural, political and economic entities with different local functions and characteristics – developed from an Italian and European into a global phenomenon. While a general history of free ports – from their first emergence to the present-day special economic zones – has never been written, this research network aims to pave the way for such an enterprise. By communicating and integrating ongoing research efforts, and by providing research materials, scholars within different (sub-)disciplines and with interests in various local or regional cases and aspects the network hopes to promote interaction, the exchange of novel ideas and ultimately a wholly new, comprehensive and enduringly relevant understanding of the history of free ports.