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RSA 2019 Toronto Seminars

Beginning in 2019, the RSA Annual Meeting program will include seminar sessions. The topics listed below were submitted to the RSA by the organizers in January 2018 and approved for the 2019 conference by the Seminars Committee.

Seminars will consist of discussion of three-to-six pre-circulated essays of approximately 4,000 words. The essays will be circulated among the seminar participants well in advance of the meeting in Toronto. Prospective auditors will be required to read the essays prior to the conference as well.

Any RSA member may submit an abstract for consideration for a seminar through the standard submissions website (opening 1 July 2018). These abstracts will count as the one allotted paper submission per member for the annual conference cycle, and will be vetted by the seminar organizers. Any abstract not selected for a seminar will then be rolled over for consideration by the conference program committee, during its review of regular submissions.

2019 Toronto Seminar Abstracts

Table of Contents

Seminar Abstracts

A Sensory History of Material Texts

Holly Dugan, George Washington University
Sarah Werner, Independent Scholar

From the smell of libraries to the taste of ink, this seminar explores the sensory and material histories of texts. Book historians have questioned the physical properties of texts, considering not only how they look, but how they feel—are the leaves stiff? are the boards heavy? where do users touch the page? But they have rarely considered these questions alongside a framework of sensory studies. This seminar will create the opportunity for scholars and librarians who have directly engaged with the material history of books to explore their visceral knowledge of these objects in order to query how it opens up new avenues for research into the history of books, manuscripts, reading, and libraries. We also welcome those working in sensory studies to join us in considering how that methodology can help us think about senses as an investigatory tool of analysis for book history in all its forms.

Archipelagoes of Images: Islands as Centers of Artistic Encounter and Conflict

Chiara Franceschini, LMU München
Yoshie Kojima, Waseda University, Tokyo

At once poles of attraction and spaces of confinement, nodes of local production and global exchange, targets of conquest/conversion and sites of encounter, islands foster deeply entangled histories and offer vantage points to rethink visual geographies. This seminar investigates islands, not as cultural outliers, but as nodes of cultural and visual production in a network of artistic exchanges. Focusing on (though not limited to) sacred imagery, we welcome proposals on art transfer, circulation, and use – including violent confrontations, religious conversion, image contestation and/or re-appropriations – from scholars working on Mediterranean, Atlantic and Pacific islands. By reinterpreting islands as contributors to artistic networks, we aim to rethink centre/periphery relations and to question received historiographies and geographies of art. Furthermore, addressing real islands might develop our understanding of ‘conceptual islands’: isolated communities and cultural archipelagoes united by social/political/religious affiliations. Combining literal and theoretical discourse effectively reframes the fractious history of art.

Biography, Fiction, and Fictionalized Biographies of Renaissance Women in the Arts

James Fitzmaurice, Northern Arizona University and the University of Sheffield
Naomi Miller, Smith College

This seminar will consider relationships between biography as a genre and fictionalized biographies of women writers and visual artists. Examples of fictionalized biographies include recent novels by Siri Hustveldt and Danielle Dutton on Margaret Cavendish. Fictionalized biography is not a new genre, however, as may be seen in two plays by Moliere and a detective story by ETA Hoffman, all deriving out of the life of Madame de Scudery. Agnes Mèrlet’s novel about the Italian Renaissance painter Artemisia Gentileschi provides a further transformation: fictionalized biography becoming film (Artemisia, 1997) or, perhaps, “biopic.” Participants in the seminar are encouraged to raise interdisciplinary questions and to remark on research tools, including databases such as EEBO TCP and the British Museum’s free online image collection. The hope is to support the development of new scholarly as well as pedagogical practices in such adjoining fields as literature, history, philosophy, and art history.

Conciencia de Crisis: Articulations of Crisis and Change in the Early Modern Iberian World

Eli Cohen, Swarthmore College

The so-called Golden Age of Spanish culture which accompanies the political and geographical expansion of Spain’s empire is paradoxically marked by expressions of crisis, doubt, decadence and conflict. This seminar explores these manifestations of a consciousness of epochal change and crisis in early modern Spanish culture through studies of the manner in which this consciousness is registered in concrete examples of thought, literature and visual art in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This seminar explores the manner in which a consciousness of crisis and change shaped early modern Spanish culture in multiple ways, including the material conditions of production and consumption of cultural works, evolving horizons of thematic content and even disjunctive experiments with aesthetic form itself.

Craft Humanism in the Early Modern Word

Maria Avxentevskaya, Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte

Craft humanism is understood here as the tendency to employ classical legacy and learned humanist discourse for advancements in early modern crafts and trades. The seminar participants are invited to consider the specimen of textual, visual, and material culture, where humanism fostered the development of an artisanal epistemology. The pre-circulated papers will clarify how the methods, procedures, and materiality of practical arts were influenced by the involvement of humanist culture: e.g. how humanist rhetoric supported the public credibility of innovations; how humanism participated in inventing hypotheses, promulgating wonder, and fashioning novel products; how numerous intellectual and social competences within the studia humanitatis sustained the routines of specific crafts; and how humanist studies in natural history affected the processing of substances and objects. Ultimately, our discussion will aim to redefine the role of humanist scholarship in promoting social, intellectual, and technological innovations in the early modern disciplines of practical knowledge.

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Early Modern Anticlericalisms

Stefano Villani, University of Maryland, College Park
Tobias Gregory, Catholic University of America

Early modern anticlericalism is a vast subject. It invites study from various disciplines, locations, and theoretical approaches, which this seminar will bring into dialogue. Submissions are welcome to draw upon a wide range of source material, including literature, ecclesiastical court records, Inquistorial records, images, and popular satire and pasquinade. Our interests include national and regional differences; confessional differences; reforming vs. libertine anticlericalisms; diachronic change; the impact of the Protestant Reformation; the impact of the Spanish, Portuguese and Roman Inquisitions in Catholic countries; anticlericalism in eastern Orthodox, non-European and non-Christian contexts. There are anticlericalisms linked to popular irreligion and unbelief; there are anticlericalisms of devout believers who seek to reform or overturn the religious institutions around them; there are anticlericalisms that do not challenge the ecclesiastical structures or belief systems of the societies in which they occur. Sharpening such distinctions will be among the goals of the seminar.

Forms of Myth in Renaissance Studies

Wendy Beth Hyman, Oberlin College
Jenny C. Mann, Cornell University

What is myth in the Renaissance? Ernst Cassirer called myth “a form of thought,” but is that form primarily imagistic, as Cassirer would claim, or is it properly discursive, as many literary scholars assume? Are myths fabrications, or do they reveal hidden truths of nature and human history? Does myth evolve historically, or does its symbolic work refuse historicity? What vocabularies and methodologies should scholars draw upon when studying Renaissance myth? We invite contributions that consider ontological problems (what is the “being” of myth?), epistemological questions (how does myth enable historical, philosophical, and/or scientific inquiry?), aesthetic practices (how does myth shape artistic production? how do myths express themselves differently across literary genres and forms?), and historical questions (what pressures do myth and history place on each other?). We hope the seminar can explore how myth moves across disciplines, language cultures, genres, and media—visual as well as literary.

Gone Missing: Reckoning with Colonial Loss in the Early Modern World

Aaron M. Hyman, Johns Hopkins University
Dana Leibsohn, Smith College

The loss of objects, texts, and people in colonial settings is startlingly and often painfully common. Scholarship on early modern loss has traditionally focused on a suite of themes: death, iconoclasm, loss of territory, forfeited political power, archival lacunae. Yet the specificities of colonialism are often elided, loss simply seen as the price one pays to study once-colonized regions of the world. While psychoanalysis has offered theoretical frames for thinking about loss, it often fails to adequately account for the real-world pragmatics and political stakes of lost things in colonial contexts and the attendant difficulties of working and writing in post-colonial conditions. This seminar, which is interested in how confronting loss and absence under colonialism might be generative, asks two main questions: What is particular about colonial loss? Given those particularities, how does colonial loss offer the potential to create new methodological frameworks for thinking about loss, more generally?

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In the Kitchen: Theory and Practice of Early Modern Cooking

Madeline Bassnett, University of Western Ontario
Hillary Nunn, University of Akron

Cooking is the poor cousin of dining, the hidden practice behind the pleasures of eating. Early modern food studies typically focuses less on the kitchen and more on the table—it’s what we eat and the contexts in which we eat it that is of most interest. In foregrounding the practical and theoretical arts of cookery, we could consider questions such as: How is cooking an act of translation? How is cooking informed by rhetoric, both textual and gestural? What is the relationship between cooking and science, performance, or aesthetics? How might cooking illuminate questions of cognition, conflict, or health? What ecological relationships might cooking elucidate? How might cooking help us think more thoroughly about colonial agriculture and global exchange, and help us build a cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary culinary vocabulary? While papers should be in English, pre-circulated essays will encourage cross-disciplinary dialogue about cooking’s ability to span geographical and cultural divides.

Mathematics and Poiesis in the Long Renaissance

Travis D. Williams, University of Rhode Island
Valerie Allen, John Jay College, CUNY

This seminar seeks papers that explore, develop, and theorize, in historically grounded ways, how the creative imagination connects mathematics and the poietic arts across the European Renaissance. From the introduction to Europe of Islamic mathematics such as algebra in the 12th century, through myriad reconceptions of magnitude and number, to the development of the calculus, the European Renaissance experienced revolutions in the form, technique, and philosophy of quantification. Recent work on these developments has shown that mathematics was a creative practice, a “making” similar to poietic creation long familiar from literary study. Whether or not we correlate mathematics specifically with literary art, the historical study of mathematics now profitably includes consideration of theories of language, reference, presentation and representation, and of discursive play that challenges traditional views of mathematics as a rigidly rule-bound science. If appropriate, please include with your abstract some relevant suggested readings for the seminar audience.

Paradise Lost and The Rediscovered Country

Artemis Susan Preeshl, Elon University

Nature shifts the tides of Shakespeare’s characters. “Paradise Lost and The Rediscovered Country” explores how storms affect Shakespeare’s characters and their societies. Through King Lear, The Tempest, The Comedy of Errors, Macbeth, and Twelfth Night, divine, magical, human-made, or environmental forces shift status in the roles humans play. As intensity and frequency of storms increase worldwide, the loss of electricity, food, water, healthcare, and roads mirrors the “into the woods” experience that transform his characters. By examining how Shakespeare’s characters respond to storms in “Paradise Lost and The Rediscovered Country”, the aftermath reframes responses of love, violence, revenge, and forgiveness in Shakespeare’s characters in King Lear, The Tempest, The Comedy of Errors, Macbeth, and Twelfth Night to natural disasters, the responsibility of the powerful to protect citizens, and reconstruction and reconciliation to raise social consciousness in light of current events, natural disaster and political power in the wake of storms.

Penelope's Shroud: The Making and Unmaking of the Epic Tradition

Eleonora Stoppino, University of Illinois
Eugenio Refini, Johns Hopkins University

The image of Penelope’s shroud is usually understood as the emblem of never-ending tasks. More specifically, the queen’s weaving and unweaving of the shroud can be interpreted as a meta-literary trope about the laborious nature of making poetry. As much as Ulysses’s story telling contributes to the making of the Odyssey, Penelope’s cunning gimmick creates the conditions for the narrative’s denouement. At the same time, ‘weaving’ and ‘unweaving’ embody dynamics that are at the core of the ways in which Homeric poetry was received, remade, reshaped, altered, and adapted in other contexts. Epic poets after Homer were emulating not only their predecessor’s creative process (the kind of process that, within Homer’s poetry, was vividly personified by Ulysses himself), but also Penelope’s agency, undoubtedly less talkative, but equally effective. Indeed, poets contributed to the making of the epic tradition by unmaking (and remaking) what had been created before them. Interestingly enough, poetical reflections on similar dynamics are often associated with female characters whose agency within the narrative – as is the case with Penelope’s – is somewhat exceptional. Ludovico Ariosto’s treatment of Cassandra (as compellingly argued by Albert R. Ascoli), is a case in point, but many more could be made. This session aims to explore the ways in which female agency has been used in the epic tradition of the Renaissance as space (textual, visual, artistic, musical) for discourses that, while based on classical models, tackled issues (poetical, historical, political) relevant to the extra-textual milieus in which the epic tradition was at once nurtured and re-functionalized.

Renaissance Animal Sensations

Natalie K. Eschenbaum, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

There are many references to animals hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and touching in the Renaissance. For example, in his Schoole of Abuse (1579), Gosson tells the Aristotelian story of a vigilant crane that uses sound to alert her flock to dangerous enemies by holding a pebble in her claw that she hears drop when she is falls asleep; Gosson implies we should do the same to protect us from the threats of Renaissance players. This seminar invites papers that explore the ways in which animal sensation is depicted in Renaissance literature, art, philosophy, religion, science, medicine, politics, theatre, religion—any of the fields represented by the RSA. Papers may be informed by sensory studies, animal studies, or any other theoretical lens. How did animals shape historically and culturally contingent conceptions of sensory experience, and vice versa? What are the methodological challenges and opportunities that arise when examining Renaissance animal sensations?

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Renaissance Ecologies of Endurance: Tense, Event, Threshold

Benjamin Bertram, University of Southern Maine
Steven Swarbrick, Baruch College, CUNY

Ecological degradation, endurance, or recovery can register in variable timelines, at different speeds, and with differing intensities across periods, geographies, individual and group experience. Recent work in ecocriticism and posthumanism has challenged traditional notions of time, suggesting the limits of linearity or even geological scope, and proposing instead models of time as slow, sticky, looped, as well as catastrophically sudden. This seminar seeks to better understand the ecological history of the present by attending to possibilities afforded by the many representations of ecological change available in early modern literature, history, and culture. How do humans and other creatures respond to long-term, as opposed to immediate, ecological change? What can “recovery” mean for an inexorable and long-term process, rather than a brief shock? How do increasingly “queer” environmental processes challenge models of observation, management, and interpretation? Have we discredited the apocalyptic, or do we need it now more than ever?

Retheorizing Gender in the Work of John Milton

Lara Dodds, Mississippi State University
Erin Murphy, Boston University

In recent decades, feminist historicists reframed questions of Milton and gender, deploying increasingly sophisticated and detailed accounts of his contexts to contest a monolithic, anachronistic conception of “patriarchy” and to denaturalize gender. More recently, as early modern studies has begun to reconsider the dominance of historicism, approaches to theorizing gender have continued to proliferate; however, the feminist, and largely historicist, vein of Milton studies has not fully engaged with new theories of gender. This seminar aims to bring together scholars interested in re-theorizing gender in Milton studies by engaging a range of theoretical methods including but not limited to queer theory, critical race theory, intersectional approaches, assemblage theory, transgender theory, new conceptualizations of class, disability theory, and affect theory. We invite papers examining the relationship between Milton’s writings and recent theoretical developments in gender studies. How do theoretical developments in these fields illuminate Milton’s works? How does Milton’s work itself inspire theoretical interventions?

Risky Business: Managing Risks in the Design and Development of Digital Humanities Projects

Anne MacNeil, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Deanna Shemek, University of California, Santa Cruz

Funding agencies often ask the principal investigators of digital humanities projects to reflect on the risks inherent in their proposals and to identify potential strategies for addressing such threats. For this seminar, we will invite contributors to share information about their digital humanities projects, highlighting how hazards have materialized and what approaches project teams have employed to address them. Common threats to digital projects include unforeseen changes in personnel; the superseding of chosen technology and/or tools by better ones; hiccups in the research team’s time management or work flow; shortfalls in participation for crowd-sourced project elements; the complexities of obtaining rights to use proprietary materials; hitches in parsing both work plan and funding for a multi-stage project; and more. Our seminar’s goal is to strengthen the knowledge base and confidence of current and future leaders of digital humanities projects by airing some of the pitfalls encountered in digital work and sharing the various strategies our community has devised to confront them. By coming together as a group, we aim not only to learn from previous projects, but also to brainstorm new approaches to digital studies of the Renaissance.

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Sacred Images in the Iberian Americas until 1700: Processes, Strategies, and Agents

Escardiel González, University of Seville
Daniel Expósito Sánchez, University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus

This panel proposes an approach to the phenomenon of sacred images through three elements: processes, strategies, and agents. Texts about the inventio, hierophany, and other manifestations of the image relate the processes of creation and the evolution of these images until being marked by the sacred. In most of the cases, they follow patterns, repeated to the point of being able to establish a rhetoric of the sacred image. In many cases, these stories, regardless of their historical veracity, provide us with valuable information about the strategies devised by the agents. Empowered by their sacred image, the agents are in position to get economic and political benefits, and can build an identity at various levels (territorial, ethnic). The huge amount of textual and visual sources allows us to examine case studies in order to understand the crucial role of the image, through the sacred, in the Iberoamerican space of this time.

Sex, Gender, and Race in the Atlantic and Mediterranean Worlds: A Comparative View

Janine Larmon Peterson, Marist College
Patricia Ferrer-Medina, Marist College

This seminar explores how Europeans constructed the identities of non-European and non-Christian peoples in the Atlantic and Mediterranean worlds. We invite papers that examine how Europeans racialized, sexualized, or in any way “othered” either Jews or Muslims in Southern Europe, the indigenous peoples of the Americas, or the peoples of North/West Africa that they encountered in Africa in addition to those encountered as slaves when traveling to the Caribbean and Central America. Renaissance and early modern European views of different peoples was closely connected to, and constructed by, prevailing ideas about gender and sexuality as well as notions of civilization and nature. This panel aims to explore these conceptions comparatively by fusing European Renaissance studies to date with new Atlantic world and transatlantic scholarship through discussion. We also welcome papers that bridge the geographical and disciplinary divisions inherent in much of the literature to date of the period from 1300-1700.

Teaching Book History with Digital Tools: Methodology and Praxis

Andie Silva, York College, CUNY
Cordelia Zukerman, United States Military Academy, West Point

This seminar will explore the ways in which new technologies are changing the ways we read and teach early modern texts. Digital platforms offer opportunities for students to engage with rare books that might otherwise be locked away in elite institutions; to understand the particularities of early modern textual production and circulation; and to read and produce texts in brand new ways through practices like distant reading, topic modeling, and social editing (to name a few). This seminar asks how and why teaching early modern texts with digital tools can be effective in the twenty-first-century classroom. What methods have proved successful, and why? In what ways can digital tools inform a greater historical understanding of early modern textual production and reception? What are some of the challenges and barriers to access when it comes to book history and digital pedagogy? And how might pedagogical practices inform new theoretical or critical discussions about book history? In keeping with the topic of this seminar, in addition to sharing their research papers participants will be invited to collaborate in curating a list of resources and assignments for teaching book history with digital tools.

The Matter of Form and the Form of Matter

Dympna Callaghan, Syracuse University
Stephanie Shirilan, Syracuse University

This seminar seeks to examine the interconnections between form and matter in early modern literature but also in relation to wider practices of the arts and sciences in the period. The relationship between form and matter was arguably the key, shared interest of early modern natural philosophy and poetics, and yet our understanding of this relationship has been stunted by modern disciplinary segregation. The modern distinction between topical and physical matter and form as the shape of either was far more imaginatively complex for early modern writers, invested as they were in the materiality of supposedly nonphysical things, and vice versa. While ecomaterialism has emphasized the “vibrancy” of early modern matter both organic and inorganic, human and nonhuman, this seminar invites participants to consider the vibrancy of early modern poetic matter and technique qua physical matter, to engage with historical questions about the agency and passivity, the affordances, capacities, and incapacities of poetic, literary, and linguistic form and/as matter, not apart from but as constitutive of and constituted by other early modern ecologies.

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