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The Early Modern Research Group

The Early Modern World: Works in Progress

The Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas is pleased to host this cross-disciplinary research seminar of work-in-progress on the Early Modern World. Professors and post-docs from different departments across the University will present their yet unpublished works in progress. Unlike the regular reading group format, there will not be any papers distributed in advance; instead, seminar-style presentations of up to 45-minutes will be followed by a brief discussion, providing the presenters with constructive feedback and the audience with the chance to ask questions. The seminar is open to everyone from the University to attend; graduate students are especially encouraged to participate as to benefit from exposure to the research methods of advanced scholars.

Meeting dates are indicated below, please note the different days and times. Each session will last around 1 hour and 15 minutes, and will be held at IPLAI's seminar room at 3610 McTavish St., Room 21-6 (2nd floor).

For more information, please contact the convenor, yelda [dot] nasifoglu [at] mail [dot] mcgill [dot] ca (Yelda Nasifoglu).

  • Monday, February 3, 3:30pm
    Prof. Angela Vanhaelen (Art History and Communications)

    "Automata in the Labyrinth: Beast Machines in early modern Amsterdam"

    According to Francis Bacon “all ingenious and accurate mechanical inventions may be conceived as a labyrinth.” The claim is derived from Ovid’s account of Daedalus, cunning inventor of both labyrinths and automata. Bacon calls Daedalus the most execrable artist of antiquity and Karel van Mander likewise advises early modern artists to eschew his deviant ways. Drawing on these commentaries, this paper exploresthe Doolhoven—labyrinth gardens—of early modern Amsterdam. Innovative exhibition spaces, these urban sites combined hedge mazes with automata displays in a manner that prompted peripatetic viewers to consider both the beneficial and malevolent potential of the mechanical arts in civic life.

  • Monday, February 17, 3:30pm
    Dr. Stephen Wittek (Early Modern Conversions)

    "Mapping the Public 'Now': Macroanalysis of Early Modern News and Drama"

    My research for the ‘Early Modern Conversions’ project considers how ideas related to conversion played out across various forms in the emergent news culture of early 17th-century London. Using Digital Humanities tools, I have been conducting textual analysis of a corpus of English documents from 1620 to 1625 (when commercial news products were first commodified), as well as a corpus of printed drama from 1590 to 1630 (including the works of William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Thomas Middleton). In my presentation, I will share this research with a particular focus on the challenges posed by early modern texts, and the potential benefits and limitations of digital methodologies.

  • Wednesday, March 12, 3:00pm
    Prof. Matteo Soranzo (Languages, Literatures, and Cultures — Italian Studies)

    "A New Look at Spirituality: Poetry for the Soul in Early Modern Italy"

    Late fifteenth and early sixteenth century poetry often defy the boundaries of literature, philosophy and religion. Neoplatonic hymns, hermetic dialogues and mystical writings, more specifically, bring forth a view of reading and writing as experiences that have direct, transformative effects upon the souls of readers and authors. What are the features of this unusual form of textuality? And how can it help us rethink our take on Early Modern spirituality as a whole? By looking at a selection of texts by Michele Marullus, Ludovico Lazzarelli, Giovanfrancesco Pico della Mirandola and others, I will try to frame them as spiritual exercises in a dialogue with Pierre Hadot and Michel Foucault.

  • Monday, March 17, 3:30pm
    Prof. Brian Cowan (History and Classical Studies)

    "The Scribbler and the Doctor: Daniel Defoe's Long Way with Dr. Henry Sacheverell"

    This paper compares the experiences of Daniel Defoe and Henry Sacheverell in enduring legal prosecution for their writings. It pays particular attention to the way in which both figures used their prosecution to develop their public image as a martyr for their (mutually antagonistic) partisan political positions. Comparing these cases illuminates the structures of public formation in early eighteenth-century England. The management and manipulation of public opinion was an increasingly important aspect of political life (and political success) in post-revolutionary England, and this accounts for the intense interest aroused by both cases, as well as the high stakes for both whigs and tories in navigating the controversies aroused by these prosecutions successfully.

  • Wednesday, March 26, 3:00pm
    Dr. José-Juan Lopez-Portillo (Early Modern Conversions)

    "A Biographical Approach to Exploring the Role of ‘Cultural Mediators’ as Agents of Conversion in Sixteenth Century New Spain"

    Hernando de Tapia is largely unknown today. Yet in the 1530s Charles V and Pope Clement VII rewarded this Amerindian translator with knighthoods. Tapia represents one of the ‘cultural mediators’ whose crucial role in the interactions between diverse cultures is assumed, and therefore generalized, but is seldom investigated further. My biographical approach, based on original archival research, is revealing some tantalizing details that may help to illustrate more general problems related to the motivations of such individuals in collaborating with foreigners, and the points of reference that allow for understanding or misunderstanding between diverse cultures.

  • Monday, March 31, 3:30pm
    Prof. Paul Yachnin (English)

    "Dreaming the Public Sphere"

    In The Mystery of Dreams (1658), Philip Goodwin commented that “all men . . . while awake, are together in one common world, but when they sleep, each man goes into a single world by himself.” On this account, waking is the proper condition for people who seek a public life with others, and sleep and dream for those who wish to remain idiosyncratic individuals. In this presentation, however, I argue that Shakespeare's Midsummer Night’s Dream puts in question the claim that waking people “are together in one common world.” The play’s analysis of early modern society shows how distinct communities inhabit altogether different worlds; in the face of the incommensurability of these social worlds, that the work of making a public is dream work.

  • Wednesday, April 9, 2:30pm
    Prof. Vasileios Syros (Academy of Finland & Department of History and Classical Studies at McGill)

    "Mercati Ex Machina: Greatness, Trade, and Economic Decline in Early Modern Jewish Thought and Giovanni Botero"

    The central thrust of this paper is to look at early modern debates on the foundations of a vigorous economy and the importance of religious inclusion for economic success in a comparative perspective. It specifically discusses affinities between the political and economic ideas of the great humanist Giovanni Botero (1544–1617) and Jewish perceptions of political and economic greatness and decline, by focusing on the writings of such major figures of Jewish intellectual life and Botero’s Venetian contemporaries as Leon Modena (1571–1648) and Simone Luzzatto (1580–1663).

  • Tuesday, April 15, 3:30pm
    Prof. José R. Jouve-Martín (Languages, Literatures, and Cultures — Hispanic Studies)

    "Healers, Saints, and Doctors: Black Medical Practitioners and the Politics of Science in Colonial Lima"

    As healers, saints, surgeons, and doctors, the descendants of black slaves played a fundamental role in the practice of medicine in colonial Lima. Focusing on the life of the mulatto surgeon José Pastor de Larrinaga, this talk will explore the interplay of popular medical practices, early modern medicine, and the scientific revolution in the capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru as well as the transformations that allowed Afro-Peruvians to become a key part of the medical life of the city for over two centuries.