Early Modern Circle

Cattedrale San Lorenzo, Genova
(Photograph: Andrew Stephenson)

Early Modern Studies Research Hub at the University of Melbourne

The Early Modern Circle is an interdisciplinary seminar open to interested students, academics and researchers.  The Circle meets on the third Monday of the month, during semester, at 6:15.  Until further notice, meetings will be conducted via a zoom link circulated by the Chair a week before the relevant seminar.


Catherine Kovesi

Una McIlvenna

Jenny Spinks

To be added to the mailing list, please email Andrew Stephenson.

Programme for 2021

15 March

Dr Charlotte Millar, The University of Queensland

Urban Ghosts: Space and Spectral Narratives in Early Modern London

In 1732 the historian Thomas Salmon proclaimed that ‘the people of London are not so superstitious as those in the country; we seldom hear of Apparitions, Witches or Haunted Houses about town.’ Salmon’s statement draws on a long tradition of depicting a divide between the superstitious rural regions and the “enlightened” towns.  Despite this, supernatural tales proliferated in early modern London, reaching the populace through word of mouth and cheap printed pamphlets and ballads.  This talk uses printed tales of ghost sightings in seventeenth-century London to demonstrate not only that supernatural beliefs were a key part of the early modern urban landscape but, also, that ghostly tales were integral to understandings of space and place.  It highlights the importance of particular places in eliciting affective responses to supernatural phenomena; how close-knit communities conceptualised urban space; and how supernatural beliefs remained a key part of how urban dwellers understood their world.

Dr Charlotte-Rose Millar is a cultural historian specialising in supernatural beliefs and popular print in early modern England.  She has previously held a research fellowship at the University of Queensland (2016-2020) and a visiting fellowship at the University of Cambridge (2018). She is the author of Witchcraft, the Devil and Emotions in Early Modern England (Routledge, 2017) and is currently working on a new, book-length project on ghosts in early modern England, as well as editing volume three of Bloomsbury’s six volume series A Cultural History of Magic.  She holds an honorary position at the University of Queensland.

To register and for the Zoom Link, contact Jenny Spinks: jspinks@unimelb.edu.au.

19 April

Carl Villis, National Gallery of Victoria

Deciphering Lucrezia’s Portrait

Since 1966, the National Gallery of Victoria has been home to a highly unusual Northern Italian oval portrait, believed to have been painted around 1525.  For well over a century there has been debate and uncertainty about some of the most fundamental aspects of the painting, including its origins, authorship and especially the gender of the sitter portrayed.  It was not until a detailed technical examination of the painting in 2006 that it became possible to confidently determine the Ferrarese origins of the portrait, which in turn led to a major reassessment of the painting’s motifs and meaning.  This presentation will outline some of the critical steps in the process of discovery which resulted in the identification of the sitter as Lucrezia Borgia, Duchess of Ferrara.

Carl Villis is the Senior Conservator of Paintings at the National Gallery of Victoria.  He has specialised in the conservation of Old Master paintings for nearly thirty years at the NGV and art museums in Italy and the United States.  He has conducted major conservation treatments and technical research on paintings by many artists in the collection, including Correggio, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, Rubens and Giambattista Tiepolo.  He combines his technical analysis of paintings with art historical research and has published studies on works by Poussin, Van Dyck and Bernardo Bellotto, among others.  In 2013-14 he was a Craig Hugh Smyth Visiting Fellow at Harvard University’s Centre for Renaissance Studies at the Villa I Tatti in Florence to complete research for his forthcoming book on his identification of the Gallery’s early sixteenth-century portrait of Lucrezia Borgia.

To register and for the Zoom Link, contact Catherine Kovesi: c.kovesi@unimelb.edu.au

17 May

Jennifer McFarland, The University of Melbourne

Honour and Profit: Pizzochere and Women's Work in Early Modern Venice

Pizzochere, or lay religious women, lived within a dual social status as neither nuns nor straightforwardly laity. Their vocation focused on active service in the world, exemplified by saintly figures such as the Franciscan Elizabeth of Hungary, who founded hospitals and tended the sick, or the Dominican Catherine of Siena, who likewise tended the sick and offered spiritual guidance to her community. In Renaissance Venice, pizzochere’s activities were sometimes described as utili or referred to collectively as utilità, by the women themselves and by other Venetians. This talk focuses on this language of benefit, profit, utility, or advantage to explore the position of pizzochere as working women. Through analysing pizzochere's activities, and Venetians' perceptions of that work, the paper suggests the contemporary significance of women's work in early modern Venetian understandings of an ideal city.

Jennifer McFarland is a graduate of the University of Melbourne. Her research focuses on the social and cultural history of early modern Venice, particularly on pizzochere, or lay religious women, and networks of poor relief. She has published on the Venetian relic cult of Saint Catherine of Siena, and was a 2019 ACIS-Save Venice Research Fellow. Her forthcoming article analyses how social and spatial relationships established the legitimacy of Venetian pizzochere’s social status. Beginning from October 2021, her doctoral project will investigate how working and artisan Venetians negotiated ageing in the early modern period.

21 June

Dr Kristie Flannery, Australian Catholic University

Fighting Pirates, Forging Empire in the Spanish Pacific World

The Philippines was forged in a sea of piracy.  Kristie Flannery's research explores how Spanish colonial officials and militant missionaries brokered alliances with indigenous Filipinos and Chinese mestizos to fight against three waves of sea-robbers: the Chinese ‘piratical empires’ of the seventeenth century, the slave-raiding ‘moro’ pirates from the Islamic southern Philippines who grew powerful in the early eighteenth century, and the British ‘pirates’ that invaded Manila in 1762.  Catholic anti-piracy politics made Spain’s Asian empire resilient to external shocks.  Piracy also impacted the dynamics of social inclusion and exclusion in this colony as shifting piracy threats came to define which communities were integrated into the empire as vassals, and which groups were subject to segregation, expulsion, and even mass executions.

This paper offers a critical reinterpretation of the entirety of colonial Filipino history by challenging the notion that the Spanish ruled the islands for centuries with brute force alone.  It also deepens our understanding of how maritime violence shaped the trajectories of globalization and of European imperial expansion in this world region.


Dr Kristie Flannery completed her PhD in History at the University of Texas at Austin.  She is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Australian Catholic University.  Kristie has researched and published widely on the history of colonialism and its legacies in the global Spanish empire and the Pacific world.

16 August

Professor Paul Salzman, La Trobe University

Treasures from the Emmerson Collection in the State Library of Victoria

20 September (non-teaching week)

Associate Professor Catherine Kovesi, The University of Melbourne

The Hunt for Marco Polo’s Unicorn

18 October

Associate Professor Andrea Rizzi, The University of Melbourne

Face Value: Translators and Interpreters’ Portraits in Early Modern Europe

15 November

Nat Cutter, The University of Melbourne

Barbarian Civility: British Expatriates, Periodical News and the Transformation of the Maghreb in British Eyes, 1660-1714

Previous Papers