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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:

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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Elizabeth Eisenstein (1923–2016)

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Elizabeth Eisenstein (1923–2016) passed away on January 31, 2016, at the age of 92, after more than forty-five years of membership in this Society and a long and productive career as a historian of eighteenth-century France and of the impact of printing. Her best-known book, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (1979) and its abridgment, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe (1983, 2nd ed 2005) argued that historians had not paid enough attention to the way printing transformed major developments of the Renaissance, Reformation, and Scientific Revolution. Eisenstein favored the macro-scale grand narrative in which printing is viewed as a communications revolution that changed the impact and interaction of many other historical movements. She argued for the role of print in fostering fixity, standardization, and diffusion, but she was also attentive to the new social interactions that resulted, both locally in the printshop and across the great distances covered by the distribution of printed matter. Eisenstein joined Lynn White and Joseph Needham in emphasizing the role of technology in history; thanks to her work printing holds still today a prominent position in the now well-established field of the history of technology. Her strong claims proved more controversial among specialists and book historians, but motivated a great deal of productive discussion and study, among readers in English and the many languages into which her work was translated, and across a wide spectrum of academic disciplines from literature and history to technology studies and print culture studies, the term with which she self-identified most often.

Eisenstein earned her BA at Vassar College in 1944 and her PhD at Radcliffe College in 1953 with a dissertation entitled "The evolution of the Jacobin tradition in France, the survival and revival of the ethos of 1793 under the Bourbon and Orleanist regimes," supervised by Crane Brinton. She developed one of its chapters into her first book: The first professional revolutionist: Filippo Michele Buonarroti (1761–1837) (Harvard University Press, 1959) in which she traced the career of this Italian transplant to revolutionary Paris. She returned to the history of France after her books on printing, in her Lyell Lectures published in Grub Street Abroad. Aspects of the French Cosmopolitan Press from the Age of Louis XIV to the French Revolution (1992). Eisenstein excelled at close readings of the works of other scholars, engaging both with the evidence they provided and with their arguments. Her earliest article, published in The American Historical Review (1965), attacked Georges Lefebvre's Marxist interpretation of the source of French revolutionary initiative in 1789. Lefebvre had died some years before, but her article triggered rebuttals from two scholars to whom Eisenstein replied in turn, with sharp judgments. Similarly Eisenstein conceded nothing to her critics in the debates that accompanied the reception of her arguments about printing, notably in a forum of the American Historical Review in 2002.

Eisenstein's prophetic focus on printing, first visible in her articles in History and Theory (1966), the Journal of Modern History (1968) and Past and Present (1969), originated from a position of marginalization within the profession. She encountered a sexist job market in the 1950s when she sought employment alongside her physicist husband on a variety of campuses. When the family settled in Washington DC, she held a part-time lectureship at American University starting in 1959. In 1975 she was offered the University of Michigan's Alice Freeman Palmer Chair of History—appropriately named after a great champion of women’s higher learning—which she held until 1988. Throughout her fifty-seven years of residence in Washington, DC (including years of commuting to Michigan), Betty Eisenstein was an active participant in the activities of the Folger Library and the Library of Congress. In 1973 she directed one of the first semester-long seminars at the recently founded Folger Institute, entitled “Early Printers and Cultural Change (1470–1570)." In 1999 she directed a second such seminar on what became the topic of her last book, Divine Art, Infernal Machine. The Reception of Printing in the West from First Impressions to the Sense of an Ending (2011). Three participants in that Folger seminar, inspired by her work and mentorship, went on to coedit a volume of essays in her honor: Agent of Change: Print Culture Studies after Elizabeth L. Eisenstein (University of Massachusetts Press in association with the Center for the Book, Library of Congress, 2007). That collection of twenty essays attests to the broad reach of Eisenstein's work across multiple disciplinary and geographical specialties and includes a full bibliography and detailed interview in which Eisenstein reflected on her remarkable career and the many strands of work in book history and print culture studies, which she did so much to inspire. Her energy was boundless, as is evident from her distinguished record in senior women's tennis and her infectious enthusiasm for learning new things and conversing with younger scholars at conferences. She received many honors and awards, including the American Historical Association Award for Scholarly Distinction (2002), an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Michigan (2004), and the Gutenberg Award from the City of Mainz in 2012.

Julian Eisenstein, her husband of 68 years, followed her in death on April 27, 2016. They are survived by a son, Edward Eisenstein, and a daughter, Margaret Eisenstein DeLacy, and their families. A joint memorial service will be held at the Cosmos Club in Washington, DC, in late summer. 

Ann Blair

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Donald Weinstein, Historian of Civic Religion

Posted By Administration, Monday, December 21, 2015

Donald Weinstein, one of the pioneering postwar American historians who made the Italian Renaissance a premier area of study, died in Tucson, Arizona, on December 13 at age 89. At the time he wrote, historians generally viewed the fourteenth through the sixteenth centuries as the birth of modern Europe through the re-birth of secular thinking. Under the influence of Jacob Burckhardt, they saw—in the art of Botticelli, Leonardo and Michelangelo and in the writings of Machiavelli–a return of ancient cultural influences that were classical, humanistic, even pagan. In a groundbreaking 1970 study, Savonarola and Florence: Prophecy and Patriotism in the Renaissance, Weinstein showed how the Dominican friar recast the commanding, expansionist identity of Florence as the New Jerusalem and the place for the Second Coming of Christ. Weinstein saw that Florentine civic culture made things sacred—the city and the state—that had not been understood as having a religious dimension before. In 1994, The Renaissance Society of America devoted a session to civic religion in Weinstein’s honor.

His skill at interrelating the religious and the secular emerged again in a co-authored book with his former Rutgers colleague Rudolph Bell that used quantitative data to explore the social factors at work (class, gender, geography) in how the Catholic Church canonized its saints from 1000 to 1700. Their research revealed a surprising increase in the declaration of new saints, including many women, during this very same “secular” fifteenth century. Saints and Society moved the study of saints’ lives away from the exclusive terrain of hagiographers and devotees into the mainstream of historical inquiry. Returning to Savonarola almost 20 years after his retirement, Weinstein examined the evolution of the religious thinker become political leader in a 2011 biography Savonarola: The Rise and Fall of a Renaissance Prophet. Savonarola believed, Weinstein says, “he was leading Florence to the New Jerusalem, but he was also traveling a path of increasing fanaticism that could only take him to desperation, delusion, and disaster. Still, it is unhelpful to dismiss Savonarola as a fanatic or a charlatan; this obscures his noble vision and slights his strenuous efforts on behalf of social justice and political liberty.” Thus, Savonarola alienated patricians by introducing a popular government and sacrificing their treasures in a bonfire of “vanities.” In 1498, he was arrested, and under torture confessed to heresy, recanted, and then was hanged and burned. By examining Savonarola’s mysticism, Weinstein showed the increasingly political prophet being finally undone by politics and his own millenarian visions. “The challenge is to integrate—as he himself never ceased trying to do—the irascible puritan at war with his world, the charismatic preacher who, as Machiavelli would have it, adapted ‘his lies’ to the times, the ascetic contemplative enraptured by divine love, and the militant herald of a new age.”

Weinstein almost necessarily concerned himself with the impact of religious faith on political realities as his Orthodox Jewish father Harris (Avram Zvi), immigrated from a shtetl near Minsk to the United States to escape the Tsar’s armies. Weinstein himself, born and raised in Rochester, NY, joined the army to oppose Nazism. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his combat with the 4th Division in the invasion of Germany that followed the Battle of the Bulge. After the war the far-sighted G.I. bill allowed him to attend the University of Chicago, where he took the famous Core designed by Robert Maynard Hutchins—two circumstances whose importance he stressed throughout his life. He earned his B.A. and M.A. at Chicago and his doctorate at Iowa.

A Fulbright grant allowed his initial exposure to the immense manuscript riches of the National Library and Archives and to study at the University of Florence in 1953–55. It was there that he married his first wife, Anne Kingsley, the mother of his two children, Jonathan and Elizabeth. After receiving the Ph.D. in 1957, he was a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin in 1957–58, and was a lecturer in history at the University of Iowa in 1958–59. He taught for two years at Roosevelt University, in Chicago, an institution rooted in social justice principles, making that, he said later, some of his most important work as a teacher. He moved to Rutgers for the next eighteen years where he advanced from Assistant Professor to Distinguished Professor. In that period he earned fellowships at the Villa I Tatti in Florence (1962–63) and at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ (1964–65). At Rutgers, he met his wife, Beverly Parker. Thus began a partnership involving Weinstein’s writing and extensive political activism and community service. The couple moved to Tucson when Weinstein took on the headship of the History Department at the University of Arizona. He was Head from 1978–87 and retired in 1992.

As department Head, he brought Heiko A. Oberman, the prominent historian of the Protestant Reformation, to Tucson and thus helped form the Division for Late Medieval and Reformation Studies, which still functions in active cooperation with the Department of History. He taught night school classes at Fort Huachuca where he commuted an hour each way from Tucson twice a week even as he ran the department. In partnership with the Arizona Historical Society, he brought Tucson’s high schools into the national “History Day,” in which students competed by writing research papers on historical subjects. He devised an interdisciplinary outreach series of round tables and lectures to involve the community in university-level discussions of current issues.

After retiring, he continued to teach. He devised a new course on Italian Renaissance great books. He attended oral exams and served on dissertation committees. He continued to publish. Building on a dossier of depositions he found in the archives of Pisa, he wrote a micro-history, The Captain’s Concubine, about the trial growing out of a 1578 street brawl. He edited Heiko Oberman’s The Two Reformations when the author’s death prevented the conclusion of that work. He translated L’Assassino del Duca: Esilio e Morte di Lorenzo de’ Medici by Stefano Dall’Aglio. Beyond all this, he completed his own magisterial biography of Savonarola.

After moving with Beverly to Sonoita, Arizona, in 1996, he joined the Crossroads Community Forum and worked on a Master Plan for development. He volunteered as a dispatcher with the local fire department. He opposed creating an open pit mine in the beautiful Santa Rita Mountains. He defended Southern Arizona’s natural environment by opposing roads through canyons and new power lines.

From the battlefield to the library, from Florence to Arizona, from prophecy to politics, from leadership to service, Don Weinstein lived a full life. He combined academic achievement and civic commitment to a very high degree of excellence and effectiveness.

Edward Muir


New York Times obituary

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Lisa Jardine, April 12, 1944–October 25, 2015

Posted By RSA, Monday, November 2, 2015

Lisa Jardine’s last appearance at an RSA annual meeting was typical of her. On March 28, 2015, immediately after the end of the Business Meeting, she took the stage to read a statement by early career scholars. They objected to the fact that all the plenary speakers in Berlin were male. Lisa relayed their arguments to a large audience with eloquence, passion and humor. Like so many of her other performances, it was unforgettable.

One of the most original and influential Renaissance scholars of the last half-century, Lisa studied at Cambridge and Essex: first mathematics, then literature. As that start suggests, her work always crossed borders—something she was encouraged to do at the Warburg Institute, where she spent three years as a senior research fellow. Her first book, a revised version of her doctoral dissertation, dealt with Francis Bacon’s efforts to reform the arts of argument. It illuminated not only his writings, but also the teaching of dialectic in Cambridge—a subject that became one of her lasting interests.

Over the next forty years, Lisa published a massive series of books and articles, on subjects as varied as the history of education in the Renaissance and the future of progressive politics in the UK, Renaissance literature and the scientific pursuits of the Royal Society, the literary career of Erasmus and the lives and work of Francis Bacon, Robert Hooke and Christopher Wren. Everything she wrote came from new research, and every new book or article revealed new ways of imagining and understanding the past.

Lisa could transform materials that everyone else found dull and forbidding into richly human sources. Her studies of Gabriel Harvey’s marginalia opened up what is now a central field in Renaissance Studies, the history of reading. An expert user of libraries and archives, she created and directed the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters, which combines the traditional methods of philology and bibliography with cutting-edge information technology to build new kinds of archive and critical edition. But she was equally at home in very different realms. One of the most popular of her many writings for a large public eloquently evoked the power of wearing red.

With Worldly Goods Lisa made the material turn, well ahead of most other historians of the Renaissance. In her studies of Hooke, Wren and Constantijn Huyghens, one of the heroes of Going Dutch, she followed her protagonists out of the archive into gardens, churches and even up the Monument, which Hooke and Wren tried to use as a zenith observatory. These accomplishments brought her many honors: she was made a CBE, elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and awarded the Francis Bacon Prize by Caltech.

Honors mattered less to Lisa than what she called, echoing Erasmus, her familia: the group of younger scholars that always seemed to surround her. A dedicated mentor, she not only trained extraordinary students, but also often took them on as collaborators. Though her formal teaching career unrolled in the United Kingdom, at Cambridge, Queen Mary University of London, and University College London, she spent a number of happy periods teaching and doing research in the United States, at Cornell, Princeton, Johns Hopkins and Caltech. Both Americans who studied with her at Cambridge and London and those who met her during her American trips benefited immensely from her painstaking criticism of their work and her unstinting moral support. A number of them became her research and writing partners.

Lisa’s public engagements were as many—and as formidable—as her academic posts and honors. She broadcast as a writer and presenter for the BBC 4 program A Point of View, and often wrote for newspapers and for the BBC website. She acted as a judge for a number of literary prizes, including what was then the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Prize for fiction. With characteristic public spirit and generosity, she served for many years as a trustee of the Victoria and Albert Museum and as chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).

It is a principle universally acknowledged that one looks in vain in university faculties for public spirit and civil courage. Lisa was a great exception to this melancholy rule. Always deeply engaged in teaching and scholarship, she somehow found time to serve her universities and a vast range of other institutions as well. Often the first woman to hold a particular position, give an endowed lecture or chair a distinguished group, she always did the job brilliantly and effectively—and always, as she did in Berlin, stood up for those without privileges and power.

Anthony Grafton

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