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Brian A. Curran

Posted By RSA, Monday, December 4, 2017
Updated: Monday, December 4, 2017

It is with great sadness that we write that Brian A. Curran (1953–2017) died on 11 July 2017 at his home in State College, Pennsylvania, from complications of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). An expert on Renaissance Rome whose research focused primarily on antiquarianism and Egyptian antiquities, Brian was a generous scholar, a devoted and greatly loved teacher, and a wonderful friend.

Brian attended the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, receiving a BFA in 1979. Between 1984 and 1990, he worked as a Curatorial Consultant and Departmental Assistant at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in the Department of Egyptian, Ancient Near Eastern, and Nubian Art. He was highly knowledgeable and passionately enthusiastic about Egyptian antiquities. Colleagues there remember the afternoon he rushed out of the basement gripping a small piece of stone. Brian had come across a small piece that he knew instantly was the missing tip of the beak of an Egyptian statue of Horus, on view up in the galleries. The whole department trooped upstairs, and it fit perfectly!

Brian received his MA in Italian Renaissance and Baroque art from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst in 1989, and an MA (1992) and PhD (1997) from the Department of Art and Archaeology of Princeton University. He was a Rome Prize Pre-Doctoral Fellow at the American Academy in Rome in 1993–94, a fellow at the Bibliotheca Hertziana in Rome from 1993–95, a post-doctoral fellow of the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at Columbia University in 1996–97, and a fellow at Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in 2005–06. In 1997 he began teaching in the Department of Art History at Pennsylvania State University, where he served as a professor from 2011.

His many publications centered on Egyptian antiquities in Rome. Most important was The Egyptian Renaissance: The Afterlife of Ancient Egypt and Egyptian Antiquities in Early Modern Italy (University of Chicago Press, 2007). In this rich and original book, he identified many Egyptian objects and images that played strikingly prominent roles in famous works of Italian Renaissance art and architecture. In a tour de force of historical scholarship and interpretation Brian also traced the often complex travels of these objects and teased out the new meanings they took on over time and in new places. He was co-editor of the Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome from 2009, and wrote dozens of articles and reviews.

Brian was a brilliant and dedicated teacher. His courses ranged across medieval and Baroque art, sculpture, film, and historiography. He supervised or was in the process of supervising more than twelve PhD theses and more than twenty master’s theses while teaching at Penn State. Despite his devastating illness, he was able to continue teaching, using technical means devised by his department and university, until a few weeks before his death. He received numerous teaching awards and his former graduate students honored him with a symposium in 2016. Graduate students and colleagues are planning a volume of studies in his memory.

Brian is survived by his beloved wife, Mary Curran, his mother, Doris Curran, his siblings and their families, and hundreds of students and friends. To all of them—and to us—his death is a tragedy, but his memory is a blessing.

Anthony Grafton, Henry Putnam University Professor at Princeton University
Pamela O. Long, Independent scholar and fellow of the John D. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation, 2015–20
Benjamin Weiss, Director of Collections and Leonard A. Lauder Curator of Visual Culture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Co-authors with Brian A. Curran of Obelisk: A History (MIT Press, 2009).

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Elizabeth Walsh

Posted By RSA, Monday, November 6, 2017

Elizabeth Walsh
1 January 1953—22 September 2017

Many scholars from the US and abroad who have done research at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, will remember fondly Elizabeth Walsh—known as “Betsy”—who was Head of Reader Services and worked at the Folger for forty-three years. Betsy passed away in September after a brief and heroic struggle with cancer.

As a native Washingtonian whose family lived and worked east of the capitol, Betsy spent much of her life in and around the Folger. She visited on high school trips to see student matinees, and in the summer of 1974 before her senior year as an English major at Trinity College, she worked as a circulation page. She continued working at the Folger part-time while earning a master’s in library science at the University of Maryland, and in 1986 she became Head of Reader Services.

Betsy’s knowledge of the Folger’s collections was broad and deep, enabling her to point many scholars in the direction they needed to go, often before they knew it themselves. She knew all the obscure corners of the collection, the old files, and the uncatalogued materials, and she shared this knowledge freely and gracefully with staff and readers. Betsy was never hierarchal or judgmental about giving out information. The woman who called because she wanted to name her cats after the witches in Macbeth received the same kind attention as a scholar in the reading room who needed to find early newsbooks or the high school teacher who was using primary source material for the first time. Betsy’s kindness meant that she was often the recipient of long disquisitions by researchers on their book topics or even on various theories about the Shakespeare authorship question. She would listen patiently and never let her good humor slip.

Betsy generously gave many tours, delighting in choosing just the right items from the collection that would interest visiting dignitaries, groups of actors, high school students, or readers and their families. She also worked on a number of exhibitions at the Folger; she co-curated Cathedral: Faith in Stone (1990), Yesterday’s News: Seventeenth-Century English Broadsides and Newsbooks (1995), and Voices for Tolerance in an Age of Persecution (2004). She was also a consultant on Breaking News: Renaissance Journalism and the Birth of the Newspaper (2008) and Open City: London 1500–1700 (2012).

Betsy’s longtime knowledge of Washington, DC, also made her an amazing resource for anyone who needed information on how to obtain special parking permits, or the best way to get onto I-95 from the Folger. Many readers learned their way around from Betsy; she referred them to local stores, or to dentists or clinics when they had a medical emergency. Betsy always cared about the whole person no matter what their academic degree or place of origin.            

Most of all, it was Betsy who, over the years, created the very special atmosphere felt by all those who came to use the Folger. She was warm and welcoming, and instilled those values into every generation of reading room staff, so that readers have felt they truly had a home in the Folger. When things were tough in their personal worlds, they knew they had another place to come. One scholar wrote in her book, “My home away from home has been the Folger Shakespeare Library,” as she acknowledged Betsy and the reading room staff in furthering her research. Betsy Walsh will be missed by many Folger readers and visitors, but her influence on generations of scholars endures as a tangible part of her memory.

Georgianna Ziegler
Associate Librarian and Head of Reference Emerita
Folger Shakespeare Library

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John Miles Headley

Posted By RSA, Monday, October 2, 2017

John Miles Headley, age 87, passed away peacefully on September 22, 2017 at his home with his devoted caregiver Joyce M. and family and friends in constant attendance during his final days.

Born on October 23, 1929 in New York City to his late parents Peter Sanford Ross Headley and Beatrice Miles Headley, he was preceded in death by his brother Peter Ogden Headley, of Richmond, Virginia. He earned his Bachelor of Arts summa cum laude in History at Princeton University, 1951. He received his Master of Arts in History from Yale University in 1953 and subsequently served with the US Army Signal Corps, 1953–55. He returned to Yale and was awarded his PhD in History in 1960. He was an Instructor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 1959–61 and Assistant Professor, University of British Columbia, B.C., 1962–64. In 1964 he joined the Department of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, remaining there until his retirement in 2003 as Distinguished University Professor.

Over his career he published widely in the fields of the European Renaissance and Reformation and global history. In November 2011, friends and colleagues honored him with a symposium, "From the Renaissance to the Modern World." His other academic honors included a Guggenheim fellowship (1974). His book Tommaso Campanella and the Transformation of the World (1997) won the Marraro Prize from the American Historical Association, the American Catholic Historical Association and the Society for Italian Historical Studies as well as the Phyllis Goodhart Gordan Book Prize from the Renaissance Society of America. His other major books include The Problem with Multiculturalism: The Uniqueness and Universality of Western Civilization (2012); The Europeanization of the World: On the Origins of Human Rights and Democracy (2008); Church, Empire, and World: The Quest for Universal Order, 1520–1640 (1997); The Emperor and his Chancellor: A Study of the Imperial Chancellors under Gattinara (1983); Responsio ad Luterum, vol. 5 of the Complete Works of St. Thomas More (1969); and Luther's View of Church History (1963).

John is remembered for his dedication to his classes and to his students for generations. The high standards of his teachings and the quality of his scholarship remain an inspiration to them and to many others. He is survived by his two nephews Peter Mitchell Headley and Jonathan Miles Headley of Richmond, Virginia and his niece Elizabeth Headley Pearson of Deltaville, Virginia and eight grandnieces and nephews. The Headley family will receive family and friends at a memorial service at Walker's Funeral Home in Chapel Hill on Friday, October 6, 2017 at 4:00 p.m. with a reception to follow. In lieu of flowers donations can be made to the Frank Ryan and John Headley Dissertation Fellowship Fund of the Medieval and Early Modern Studies Program, College of Arts and Sciences, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Online condolences may be sent to the Headley family by visiting www.walkersfuneralservice.com.

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Gene Adam Brucker

Posted By Administration, Thursday, August 3, 2017

Gene Adam Brucker, Shepard Professor of History Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, died peacefully at the age of 92 in hospice care at Bayside Park Center, Emeryville, California. A former RSA President and winner in 2000 of the Paul Oskar Kristeller Lifetime Achievement Award, Brucker is widely credited with having launched a new approach to the Florentine Renaissance as a leader of a cohort of influential historians studying the society and institutions of a city best known for its artistic monuments and literary lights.

In two major books, Florentine Society and Politics, 1343–1378 (Princeton University Press, 1962) and The Civic World of Renaissance Florence (Princeton University Press, 1977), Brucker wrote what remains the most detailed account in any language of the ways in which late medieval Florence, a commercial city divided by factional and class strife, became the political, economic, and cultural powerhouse of the Renaissance. Beginning with Jacob Burckhardt’s classic nineteenth-century study of the “civilization of the Renaissance in Italy,” previous accounts had largely relied on chronicles, historical narratives, and literary works. Brucker explored instead the day-to-day affairs of Florence and the Florentines, drawing on the city’s archives, which remain unparalleled, despite several floods, including the major flood in 1966. The deliberations of city magistrates, notarial copies of testaments and property transactions, the records of religious institutions, judicial proceedings, diplomatic correspondence, and the private letters, journals, and tax declarations of citizens survive from fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Florence to a degree rarely found elsewhere in the world before the seventeenth century. 

Documents others might have passed over as routine or dry-as-dust Brucker mined with an unerring eye for discovery and the utter concentration demanded by vast series of documents, the mere contemplation of which would have struck terror in other hearts. For all his exacting research, he never lost sight of major questions about changes over time in class structure, the growth of bureaucracy, religious attitudes, relations between the sexes, oligarchic as opposed to democratic and tyrannical government, factional allegiance, feudalism, family structure, economic prosperity, and social welfare in Florence. He understood that the answers to these questions needed to be constructed from what survives of the experiences of thousands upon thousands of individuals, whose voices, as transcribed from contemporary documents, peppered the pages of his books. 

In nine other books, more than thirty articles, and countless book reviews, Brucker extended and, with unstinting generosity, shared his sense of the past and his passion for Florentine history with any number of scholars, students, and anyone looking for a good Renaissance read. English readers can sample the sort of Florentine documents that Brucker worked with in two books of translations, Two Memoirs of Renaissance Florence (Harper and Row, 1967) and The Society of Renaissance Florence (Harper Torchbook, 1971). Brucker also wrote two surveys of Florentine history. His Renaissance Florence (1969; reprinted by the University of California Press, 1983) describes in full detail a world of which only brilliant glimpses are preserved in the frescoes of Masaccio and Ghirlandaio. Brucker’s Florence in the Golden Age, 1138–1737 (1983, translated from the published Italian text) is a vividly illustrated volume on the broad phases of Florentine history from the High Middle Ages down to the Enlightenment. 

Friends joked that his most popular book would have to be made into a movie. Brucker came to write Giovanni and Lusanna: Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence (University of California Press, 1986) through another unforeseen turn of events. Over lunch at Villa I Tatti, the Harvard Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in Florence, he happened to tell the present company about some documents he had found concerning a fifteenth-century love affair gone sour. George Weidenfeld, the British publisher, was there, and on the spot he urged Brucker to write a book about it. Brucker’s wife Marion egged him on, and in the end, as he would say, he wrote the book as a kind of “love offering” for her. The book tells the poignant story of an affair between a beautiful young woman and a young patrician of a higher social class. According to her account, the young man offered her a ring after her husband died and they were surreptitiously married. When the young man publicly married a young woman of his own class a few years later, Lusanna brought suit to have the second marriage annulled. According to Giovanni’s account, she was a loose woman, an adulteress who had begun the affair while her husband was alive, and there was no valid proof of his marriage. Brucker’s deep knowledge of the neighborhood in which the affair took place, of the families that were involved, and of the ways in which Florentines wooed and wed each other meant he could turn the court records and the statements of the witnesses into a tale as remarkable for feelings it still arouses as for what it says about life in the Renaissance.

Brucker liked to say that the only laws of history are unpredictability and contingency, and this was the theme of his Josephine Waters Bennett Lecture, delivered in 2000 at the RSA conference in Florence and published as “The Horsehoe Nail: Structure and Contingency in Medieval and Renaissance Florence” (Renaissance Quarterly 54.1 [2001]: 1–9). The improbability of his career is a case in point. He was born in rural Cropsey, Illinois, in 1924; attended a one-room schoolhouse in the depths of the Depression; and, when his father conceded that he was not suited to farming, enrolled in the University of Illinois, one of the first in the large Brucker clan to go to college. In his freshman year, shortly after the attack at Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the army and in 1944 shipped out to Europe where he was assigned to a transport equipment depot in Marseille; after VE Day his unit was in transit to Japan (aboard the erstwhile luxury liner SS Lurline) to Japan when they received news of the bombing of Hiroshima. 

Returning to the University Illinois in 1946, he completed his BA in History and in 1948 earned his MA with a master’s thesis on Jean-Sylvain Bailly, the polymath mayor of Paris during the first years of the French Revolution. This was his first and most unexpected publication by the University of Illinois Press.

Brucker’s mentor at Illinois, Professor Ray Stearns, urged him to apply for a Rhodes Scholarship, which, against all odds, he won for study and a Bachelor of Letters degree at Wadham College, Oxford. If the muse of history had played straight he would have become a historian of France or England. Instead, he was drawn to the history of Renaissance Italy with, at best, a smattering of Italian and the encouragement of an eccentric Italophile tutor, Cecilia Mary Ady, who, nearing retirement, must have been surprised by the innocence of this young colonial. 

From Oxford and an essay on Machiavelli, Brucker went to Princeton, where, in 1954, he earned a PhD for a dissertation on fourteenth-century Florence under the direction of Joseph Strayer and Theodor Mommsen, one of the German refugees whose broad and deep learning transformed the writing of European history in the New World. Fresh from Princeton and a stranger in the West, he arrived in California as an acting instructor in 1954 and taught at Berkeley, though courted by other universities, until his retirement in 1991. 

As a committed citizen of his department and university, he joined a group of younger faculty who beginning in the 1960s—in the midst of turmoil on the Berkeley campus—transformed the History Department at Berkeley into one of the most renowned and prestigious in the world. Among many other appointments, he served as chair of his department (1969–72), chair of the Academic Senate (1984–86), and on his retirement in 1991 was awarded the Berkeley Citation, granted to a select few individuals for their contributions to the Berkeley campus. 

Brucker’s professional engagements were wide-ranging. He was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and was elected, in 1979, to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His research in Italy was supported by Fulbright, Guggenheim, and ACLS fellowships, and he was a Fellow and later Acting Director at Villa I Tatti of the Harvard Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in Florence. 

Gene Brucker’s generosity, modesty, and sense of community extended to colleagues who sometimes disagreed with him in the competitive world of Florentine studies. His students treasured him not only for what they learned from him, but also for his letters and steady concern for their personal lives and careers long after they left Berkeley. 

Jonathan Dewald, a distinguished historian of early modern France who studied with him in the late 1960s and early ’70s, wrote, as news of Brucker’s death was shared in a long thread of many emails, “Probably all of us from those years got a more free-range education than was typical before or since. . . . In those circumstances, what mattered to me about Gene was . . . what he showed us about how an academic life ought to be lived that started with his kindness and openness but also included his absolute commitment to what we were doing at a time when that wasn’t always easy to do.” Many of his students remarked on his willingness to let them find their own way and to let his own vulnerabilities be seen. William Connell, La Motta Chair, Seton Hall University, remembers waiting in the hall to see Brucker during office hours while, with the office door open, a tearful undergrad asked for an extension on a paper because her mother had died: “When she left, and I went in, Gene was crying with tears running full down his face.” Cynthia Polecritti, UC Santa Cruz, tells how in Florence, “He told us to keep our windows open in the summer night so that we could hear the nightingales sing.” Dale Kent and Lisa Kaborycha recalled countless occasions when they could rely on Gene for counsel, support, and friendship. 

“If he read the accolades,” wrote Brucker’s daughter Wendy, “he would have brushed them off in his usual way and quickly turned the subject to something else. . . . Those who knew him will nod their heads and those who didn’t will wish they had.” 

Brucker loved baseball and played regularly on the History Department’s softball team in the 1970s and ’80s. He was a lifelong and long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan and in a capping improbability lived to celebrate them as World Series Champions. He can be heard in his own voice in the oral history recorded by the Regional Oral History Office: http://digitalassets.lib.berkeley.edu/roho/ucb/text/brucker_gene.pdf

Gene Brucker is survived by a son, Mark Brucker, and two daughters, Francesca Donig and Wendy Brucker, and his first wife Patricia Brucker; his stepchildren, Matthew and Charlotte Skinner Dobson; and Matthew’s wife Carla and their children, William and Vivian Skinner. 

William Connell
Randolph Starn

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Allison Morgan Sherman

Posted By RSA, Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Dr Allison Morgan Sherman, 37, died in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, on 26 April 2017, after a two-year struggle with breast cancer. She was surrounded by her loving family, including her mother, Joan Sherman, her caregiver for the entire two years – a word which conveys so little of Joan’s fierce and devoted love for her daughter.

Allie discovered a love of Italian Renaissance Art History at Queen’s University, and in her second year as an undergraduate student, in 2000, cemented her passion for Venice during the annual Queen’s Venice Summer School, then taught by Sharon Gregory and Sally Hickson. Her M.A at Queen’s (awarded 2004) was supervised by David McTavish, and her Ph.D. at the University of St Andrew’s in Scotland (awarded 2010) by Peter Humfrey.

Allie’s interests, while centred on Renaissance Venice, were broad. Given her short life, she was a prolific scholar, publishing, in the five years following her dissertation, seven articles and book chapters, a co-edited book in honour of Deborah Howard, and an article co-written with Dr Humfrey. She was the recipient of grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation and the Burlington Magazine Foundation. Her Artibus et Historiae article “Murder and Martyrdom: Titian’s Gesuiti St Lawrence as a Family Peace Offering” received an honourable mention for the I Tatti Prize of 2013 for Best Essay by a Junior Scholar. Among other topics, she worked on: Venetian churches; the Counter-Reformation in Venice; Venetian monastic life; ducal, private, corporate and monastic art patronage, including (particularly) that of lay procurators for mendicant orders; and views and maps of Venice. Her dissertation on the Crociferi church, Santa Maria Assunta (now the Gesuiti), led her additionally to explore aspects of monastic music and the afterlife of works of art sold, dispersed and dismantled after ecclesiastical and Napoleonic suppression. Infamously, few documentary sources for the Venetian Crociferi survived in obvious archival fondi, and researching this church ultimately led Allie to develop an extraordinary “nose” for archival documents.

Allie was an extremely dedicated teacher. She taught courses at Carleton University in Ottawa, and at Queen’s University, where (as a sessional lecturer) she also served as Graduate Coordinator. From 2011–16, she taught the Queen’s Venice Summer School with Dr Krystina Stermole, thus coming full circle from her undergraduate experience. The tributes that have flooded in from her students praise her passion for art and for teaching, her kindness, and the undivided attention she gave during “tea and sympathy” office hours. During her illness, she came to the realization that academic life had become too stressful and unrewarding, and she planned a major change in her life and her career.

Most important of all, Allie had a great gift for friendship. Her extraordinarily open and affable nature, and her outrageous sense of humour, led people from many walks of life (including the scholars she worked beside at the Archivio di Stato in Venice) to adore her. She loved her family, close friends, teachers and mentors all her life – a love that was wholeheartedly and unreservedly returned.

Sharon Gregory, St Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Canada
Sally Hickson, University of Guelph, Canada

Allison in Venice, 2013

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Ronald G. Witt

Posted By RSA, Monday, March 20, 2017

Ronald G. Witt lived a rich, generous life, one that profoundly touched family, friends, and fellow scholars. Born into a farming family in rural Michigan in 1932, he wound up traveling the world, influencing generations of students, and leaving behind a body of scholarly work that both transformed a field and will remain an integral part of it in the decades to come.

Witt studied first at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (BA, 1954). After graduating, he spent a brief time in the business world, concluding that it was not for him. He thence moved to Harvard University and its storied history department with the intention of pursuing a PhD in medieval history. While there, he encountered the scholar Myron Gilmore, who mentored a number of doctoral students in a field that, for a time, was destined to grow and be vigorous in US history departments: the intellectual history of the Italian Renaissance. He earned his PhD at Harvard in 1965. A decisive set of experiences were his scholarly sojourns in Europe with the support of the Fulbright Foundation: first in France (1954–56), and then, more consequentially, in Italy (1962–63).

Witt’s first major works concerned the intellectual Coluccio Salutati (1331–1406), a respected but at the time little-studied Florentine intellectual. Witt’s research demonstrated just how central this active statesman and reflective scholar was. It was not just that Salutati, in his own creative work, distilled many of the tensions of his own era (predominantly that between the need to live a Christian life and the siren call of the pre- and non-Christian ancient classics). Witt’s work also showed Salutati’s place as cultural convener, serving as the central figure around which a pivotal generation of Italian intellectuals cohered, between the era of Petrarch and Boccaccio and that of Leonardo Bruni. In these studies and related articles, Witt combined painstaking archival research with his reading of Renaissance philosophy and allegory, as he gauged the impact of voluntarism in humanist ethics and the influence of the “poet-theologian.”

Witt’s interests in generations shaped his field-defining book In the Footsteps of the Ancients: The Origins of Italian Humanism from Lovato to Bruni, 1250–1420, which received the RSA’s Gordan Book Prize, along with awards from the American Philosophical Society and the American Historical Association. In this work, he showed that one powerful way to conceive of Italian Renaissance “humanism” (a disputed term if ever there was one) was by focusing on the use and imitation of classical Latin. With that parameter in mind, Witt demonstrated that the Italian humanist movement reached back farther than tradition would admit: to the thirteenth century and, importantly, to the north Italian city of Padua. There a passion for classicism, fueled by contact with French troubadours (themselves vectors for high medieval French classicism), emerged among a set of remarkable individuals. If names like Albertino Mussato and Lovato dei Lovati had not hitherto been part of the standard narratives of Italian Renaissance intellectual life, after In the Footsteps they became permanent parts of that historiographic landscape, which, the book made clear, rooted humanism in the realm of poetry and the personal letter rather than in the field of rhetoric, as had been commonly assumed. Witt traced his story, generation by generation, from those early days, through the tumultuous fourteenth century (where the figure of Petrarch, together with his strong religious orientation, loomed large), all the way up to the generation of Leonardo Bruni, whose death in 1444 signaled the end of an era, of sorts, and the beginning of another. Bruni and his cohort, largely secular in orientation, had inherited, transformed, and regularized the approaches to classical Latin that had evolved in the life, work, and thought of the previous generations of Italian humanists. Humanist education would become the norm for elite Italians and eventually Renaissance Europeans at large.

Witt’s final major book, The Two Latin Cultures and the Foundation of Renaissance Humanism in Medieval Italy, was nothing less than groundbreaking (and was recognized as such, winning the Haskins Gold Medal from the Medieval Academy of America in 2014). As it were, a prequel to his earlier In the Footsteps, the book asks, why was there, relatively speaking, a large lay intelligentsia in late medieval and early Renaissance Italy? To answer this question, Witt charted over four centuries of early and high medieval developments peculiar to Italy, with a focus on interactions among the Italian clerisy, the Italian notariate (the members of the latter group were exclusively lay), and extra-Italian intellectual influences, especially those from France. His source base was tremendously varied, with literary manuscripts, archival sources, and economic and political historiographies all playing a role. A monumental classic in the field, it is a book that will be studied for generations to come, for it both decisively links, and distinguishes, the worlds of medieval and Renaissance culture. Its arguments are original, sophisticated, and expansive, the result of a lifetime of study. It is equally noteworthy for displaying the attributes of its author: clarity of thought, self-criticism, and a wide and charitable reading of other scholars’ research.

There were many other articles and edited books in the course of Witt’s career, including a fine humanities textbook coauthored with, among others, his wife, the prominent comparatist Mary Ann Frese Witt (The Humanities, now in its seventh edition). The Earthly Republic, an anthology of sources he coedited with Benjamin Kohl, became a standard work in college courses. Though a prolific scholar, Witt shone in the classroom, where his endless curiosity, generous nature, and finely honed pedagogy garnered recognition both in the form of teaching awards and, as importantly, in the hearts and minds of generations of students. He extended his teaching outside the university, leading a series of successful NEH seminars for high-school teachers on Petrarch’s life and works. Witt taught at Harvard University before moving to Duke in 1971, where he retired in 2002 as the William B. Hamilton Professor of History.

Throughout his career, Witt’s work was recognized with many grants and awards, including from the Fulbright Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, Villa I Tatti, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and others.

Witt served as President of the Renaissance Society of America from 2002 to 2004. A longtime member and supporter of the Society, he served on its Executive Board and as chair of a successful capital campaign. In 2013 he was the recipient of the RSA’s Paul Oskar Kristeller Lifetime Achievement Award.

During his long career at Duke University, Witt touched the lives of undergraduate and graduate students through inspirational teaching and his leadership. As director of the Angier B. Duke Memorial Scholarship Program, he transformed this academic award into a prestigious national merit award, attracting to Duke talented students from across the country while mentoring them through their undergraduate years. From staging historical reenactments to inventing raucous games at retreats, elaborate practical jokes, and teaching Renaissance dance with his wife, Mary Ann, Witt showed students that homo ludens remained vital for the full, rich experience of life in all its dimensions. From the moment he arrived at Duke, he also became one of the faculty leaders of Duke’s Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, modeling interdisciplinary collaboration and scholarship for faculty long before it became one of the university’s signature features. His teaching was recognized by the award of a coveted Duke Alumni Association Teaching Award.

Lists of works (no matter how impactful), dates of degrees and awards (no matter how prominent), and curricula vitae of all sorts (no matter how full): none of these things can summarize a life lived in full, as was Witt’s. Those who knew him personally knew a person of unparalleled generosity, humor, and personal humility, who was always ready to help a fellow scholar, always inclusive in the highest degree, always willing to lend a hand. He will be sorely missed by family, friends, and fellow scholars.

Christopher S. Celenza
Timothy Kircher

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George Labalme, 1927–2016

Posted By RSA, Thursday, October 6, 2016

In September the Renaissance Society of America lost a beloved and generous friend. Unlike most friends of the RSA, George Labalme was not a scholar of the Renaissance. By trade he was an architect and industrial designer, known indirectly among the gourmands of the world for the design of the Grey Poupon mustard jar. As a true cosmopolitan, however, his mark on the world penetrated far more deeply than his professional achievements, which included his long association with his uncle, the industrial designer Raymond Loewy.

Born in Paris, young George and his family moved to New York in that awful year of 1939, and in New York he grew to become a fixture of cultural commitment. He met and married Patsy Hochschild, who took her PhD in History at Harvard, wrote distinguished work on Venetian humanism, and was a pioneer in what we would now call Queer studies. Through her George entered the world of the Renaissance and the humanities, but he became more than a tag-along husband. He served as the vice president of the New York Public Library; dedicated himself along with Patsy to helping the Brearley School, the Institute for Advanced Studies, and the American Academy in Rome; was a trustee of several museums and foundations including The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, which supports scholarship about and art restoration in Venice; and for many years benefited the RSA as its Treasurer. The financial strength of the RSA owes a great deal to George’s friendship, and I would venture that most scholars of the Renaissance today are unaware of how much George Labalme has assisted their work.

To define George’s relationship to Renaissance studies by listing his institutional commitments, however, would miss the heart of the matter. George was a larger-than-life figure with his hearty laugh, his openhearted manner, and his love of doing good deeds. I first met George and Patsy when I was still a mere graduate student. The late Myron Gilmore invited me to a private dinner at I Tatti to meet them, and although I felt completely out of my element, the Labalmes made me feel comfortable and at home. Over the years there were many other meetings with George at his favorite haunts, including one when he advised Bill Kennedy and me about how to raise money for the RSA. George very carefully cultivated scholars, scholarly associations, and cultural figures that were of immense importance to Renaissance studies, US and beyond. He served a critical function as broker, connecting scholars to funders in the US, UK, Italy, and worldwide. Without that networking, Renaissance studies would be nothing like the flourishing field that it is today.

For many years we worked together to sustain the American (now International) Friends of the Marciana Library, an organization George cooked up to help that venerable but beleaguered institution. George became a great lover of all things Venetian and spent weeks there every year. One of his recent singular achievements was the Poetry of Light exhibition in 2014–15 of 140 drawings from the National Gallery put on at the Correr Museum in Venice. George died the gentleman he was, strolling on the streets of New York dressed in an elegant suit complete with his Venetian suspenders.

Edward Muir
Northwestern University


 

New York Times obituary

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Margaret Hannay

Posted By RSA, Friday, September 16, 2016

Dr. Margaret Hannay (1944–2016) was a professor of English at Siena College from 1980 to 2013, where she taught Elizabethan literature, Shakespeare, and the Great Books course for first-year students. She served as chair of the department and of the core curriculum committee. She published dozens of articles and seventeen books, including Mary Sidney, Lady Wroth, Philip’s Phoenix, and C. S. Lewis, as well as seven volumes of collected works and correspondence of the Sidney family (with Noel Kinnamon and Michael Brennan), and, most recently, The Ashgate Companion to the Sidneys 1500–1700 (2015, with Michael Brennan and Mary Ellen Lamb). Hannay received numerous awards for her scholarship, including the Raymond Kennedy Excellence in Scholarship Award from Siena College and lifetime achievement awards from the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women (a society that she founded and then served as president) and the International Sidney Society (where she also served as president).

Margaret was exemplary on personal as well as professional levels. She was so wise, and her wisdom was so much part of her character—thoughtful and reflective, able to see various perspectives at once, calm when those around her were anxious. One of several occasions when I was privileged to encounter her wisdom firsthand was when we were coediting the Ashgate Research Companion to the Sidneys with Michael Brennan. She was always able to see through the surface noise to the deeper issues. She was never overly concerned with the little glitches that always come up in a large editing project; she had faith that all would turn out right as of course it did. Whatever her health concerns, she set her worries aside to answer emails about what were sometimes trivial matters (whether to capitalize a lord’s title in this vs. that circumstance). She was always dependable and ever encouraging. I was privileged to encounter her wisdom on a personal level as well. Long ago, when I was considering marriage to my current husband, who is a mathematician, she asserted, “Well, mathematicians make excellent husbands, but you do have to dress them.” She was of course right. I miss her so much, and I am still trying to pretend that she is right there, on the other side of my email, ready to advise me on anything from husbands to capitalizations.

Mary Ellen Lamb
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale

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Germana Ernst

Posted By RSA, Friday, July 22, 2016

Germana Ernst, a foremost scholar on the Italian philosopher Tommaso Campanella, passed away on 17 July 2016 after a very short illness. Prior to her retirement less than three years ago, she held the Chair of the History of Renaissance Philosophy at the Università di Roma Tre.

Born in Bergamo on 22 February 1943, Germana often recalled with fond memories her first teaching assignment at a secondary school in the Alpine town of Bormio, while still a student at the Università Statale di Milano. After graduating with a thesis on Campanella’s Apologia pro Galileo, written under the supervision of her mentor Mario dal Pra, she dedicated most of her academic career to research on the philosopher’s life, texts, and thought. Her stated aim in the introduction to her edition of Campanella’s Lettere (2010), which takes its cue from a self-referential metaphor employed by the philosopher himself, may be extended to describe her lifelong scholarly activities: “to remove some of the layers of rust so as to allow the bell [‘campanella’] to regain its silvery sound.”

Through her many articles, books, and editions of primary texts, Germana Ernst made important and original contributions to all the main aspects of Campanella’s elaborate philosophical enterprise: natural philosophy, metaphysics, theology, natural magic, prophecy, astrology, ethics, and politics. She privileged the text as the basis for any meaningful interpretation, and insisted on the importance of reading each one of Campanella’s writings within the unitary context of his entire corpus. Her editions of Campanella’s published and unpublished works include Articuli prophetales (1977), Città del sole (1996), Monarchia di Spagna (1997), Opuscoli astrologici (2003), De libris propriis et de recta studendi syntagma (2007), Del senso delle cose e della magia (2007), Lettere (2010), Ethica; Quaestiones super ethicam (2012), Tre Questioni politiche contro Aristotele (2013), and Economica; Questioni economiche (2016). Her Tommaso Campanella: il libro e il corpo della natura (2002), the most comprehensive intellectual biography of the Calabrian philosopher, traces “the origins, development and persistence of some of the fundamental themes of his philosophy.” It has since been translated into French (2007) and English (2010).

One of “the greatest emotions of [her] life,” she wrote very recently, was her discovery of the autograph Italian manuscript of Ateismo trionfato, which appeared in 2004 as the inaugural text in an ongoing series of Campanella’s works published by the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. The Ateismo, the work closest to Campanella’s heart, fascinated Germana on account of both the complexity of its contents and its tortuous history, which accompanied and mirrored the tragic life story of its author. When she got wind of preliminary plans to publish a Festschrift to mark her retirement, Germana actively dissuaded friends and colleagues from going to such lengths. This was typical of her genuine unpretentiousness as well as her endearing tenacity. As a compromise of sorts, she agreed to the publication of the anastatic reproduction of the 1631 Latin edition of Atheismus triumphatus (2013), which was dedicated to her and included a tabula gratulatoria featuring many friends and colleagues. This initiative had pleased her immensely.

Together with Eugenio Canone, in 1995 Germana Ernst founded Bruniana & Campanelliana, which has since established itself as a leading journal on Renaissance and early modern philosophy and history of ideas. Indefatigable as always, as its coeditor she was still soliciting submissions and reviewing articles until a few days before her untimely passing.

Besides her work on Campanella, Germana Ernst wrote about Bruno, Cardano, Della Porta, Galileo, and Vanini. She also dealt with various aspects of Renaissance thought and intellectual culture, particularly magic and astrology. She was appointed a corresponding member of the Académie Internationale des Sciences in 2006. The town of Stilo, Campanella’s birthplace, conferred her with honorary citizenship in 2007. She had been a member of the RSA for many years.

Germana was a brilliant scholar, a formidable teacher, a generous mentor, and a treasured friend to many. She will be remembered above all as a person of great wisdom and humanity, admirable simplicity, and contagious enthusiasm.

Jean-Paul De Lucca
University of Malta

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Daniel S. Russell

Posted By Tracy E. Robey, Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Updated: Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Professor Daniel S. Russell, University of Pittsburgh, died on 10 April 2016 in Pittsburgh. His contributions to Renaissance Studies focused on sixteenth-century French literature and emblematics. His publications often treated new approaches to emblem studies that assisted in bringing emblem studies to new audiences and opened up new paths for research, from his “Emblème et Mentalité Symbolique” (1990) to his “Nouvelles directions dans l’étude de l’emblème français” (2007).  He also investigated emblematic features of canonical authors and works, for example, in his “Du Bellay’s Emblematic Vision of Rome” (1972) and “Montaigne’s Emblems” (1984), thereby pioneering new directions in the discipline.  His seminal article “Alciati’s Emblems in France” appeared in Renaissance Quarterly in 1981, demonstrating innovative insights for the study of emblems in a pan-European context and establishing the early French emblematists as crucial to understanding the new genre that swept early modern Europe. His books have an equally broad scope and investigate emblems and devices as they relate to early modern culture as a whole: The Emblem and Device in France (1985) and Emblematic Structures in Renaissance French Culture (1995).  These key works went beyond national traditions and established key concepts in emblem studies, contributing to the discipline’s debates that continue today. Researchers whose work ranges far beyond French Renaissance literature cite his works as touchstones of scholarship. Owing to his international recognition, his colleagues gave him a Festschrift, An Interregnum of the Sign: The Emblematic Age in France. Essays in Honour of Daniel S. Russell, which appeared as a volume in the series Glasgow Emblem Studies in 2001. His scholarship was recognized with significant awards from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Fulbright.

Beyond his books and many articles, Dan’s research and scholarship helped to shape the entire discipline of emblem studies over the decades by establishing its key journal, hosting an international conference, organizing an exhibition, and teaching courses on emblems, among the many other, often invisible tasks that initiate new directions in research and support new fields of scholarly research. Dan’s efforts did much to elevate the status of emblem studies worldwide: he was co-founder of Emblematica: An Interdisciplinary Journal for Emblem Studies, which he co-edited for many years. A sign of his generosity to the field and to his students, he co-taught with me a semester-long consortium seminar on emblems at the Newberry Library, in 2005, for which he regularly commuted to Chicago. He was a noted and well-liked teacher and gave very generously of his time to younger scholars, read dissertations from around the world, advised and planned the discipline, and saw to good succession plans at various stages of the discipline’s growth, the early part of which he established and oversaw. He enjoyed introducing students to emblem studies, mentoring younger colleagues, and doing the work of the discipline. He often did the heavy lifting. While he was the leading emblem scholar in the US for a number of years, he was also widely respected internationally as indicated by his position as president of the international Society for Emblem Studies, an honorary title that colleagues bestow selectively and at infrequent intervals for contributions to all areas of emblem studies.

Dan was a good friend and mentor.  He helped put emblem studies on the radar for all Renaissance scholars.

 

Mara Renée Wade

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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