Early Modern Circle

Pinturicchio, Libreria Piccolomini, Duomo, Sienna
(Photograph: Andrew Stephenson)

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  Zoom.

Recurring Zoom Link; password: 171753.


Catherine Kovesi

Jenny Spinks

Matthew Champion

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

Programme for 2022

21 March

Professor Carolyn James, Monash University

“Your Lordship has for some time loved me little”:  Isabella d’Este and the Emotions of a Dynastic Marriage

This paper explores how the Italian princess, Isabella d’Este, one of the best documented women of her time, experienced and navigated a politically motivated marriage over more than three decades. Betrothed in 1480 to Francesco Gonzaga, heir to the marquisate of Mantua, a small city state in northern Italy, Isabella married in 1490, when she was fifteen. The union ended with her husband’s premature death from the Great Pox in 1519. As the granddaughter of Ferdinand I d’Aragona, king of Naples, Isabella’s social pedigree far outranked that of her husband. Her intelligence and education were equal, if not superior, to Francesco’s. How, then, did these circumstances impact on a relationship in which a wife, however elite, was subject to her husband’s rule? This paper analyses that question through the prism of the couple’s correspondence with each other and the letters of the court servants who served and observed them.

Carolyn James is the Cassamarca Professor of History at Monash University, Australia. She has edited the letters of the fifteenth-century Bolognese literary figure, Giovanni Sabadino degli Arienti, and analysed his literary works (1996 and 2002).  With Antonio Pagliaro, she translated the late medieval letters of Margherita Datini (2012). She has written on women’s political and diplomatic roles in Renaissance Italy, as well as early modern women’s relationship with letter-writing.  Her latest monograph A Renaissance Marriage: The Political and Personal Alliance of Isabella d’Este and Francesco Gonzaga 1490-1519 was published by Oxford University Press in 2020.

11 April

Freg Stokes, University of Melbourne

Dancing Around the State: The Role of Guaraní Resistance in the Failure of the Paraguayan Silver Route, 1500-1609

Historians have often treated Paraguay's marginalisation within the Spanish Empire as a geographic inevitability. This talk argues, in contrast, that Indigenous Guaraní resistance to the sixteenth-century European invasion of South America impeded the creation of silver export routes through the Atlantic Rainforest. While the neighbouring Inca Empire fell rapidly to the Spanish, decentralised Guaraní forces dodged and danced around the invading Spanish state. The invisible hand of Indigenous resistance prevented Spanish conquistadors from utilising pre-existing local silver routes operated by Guaraní women. These conflicts isolated Paraguay and shaped the subsequent history of the Atlantic Rainforest.

Freg J Stokes is a writer and mapmaker from Melbourne, Australia. He is a PhD candidate in History at the University of Melbourne. His doctoral thesis provides part of the research basis for The Hummingbird’s Atlas, a collaborative project with Guaraní artists and writers. He has also worked on applied theatre, public art and satirical performance projects in Australia, Venezuela and Bhutan. He has written for the Postcolonial Studies Journal, Jacobin, Crikey, Overland and The Lifted Brow.

16 May

Dr Heather Dalton, University of Melbourne

"Child with a Cockatoo": Shifting Understandings of the Origins & Meanings of Australasian Cockatoos in Early Modern Artworks


Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, Australasian cockatoos featured in English paintings, including portraits of prominent Stuart women. While the primary reason for including exotic fauna was to flag the wealth and discernment of sitters and patrons, artists drew on the symbolic repertoire of parrots in medieval and renaissance artworks to convey a variety of meanings. As Australasian parrots had been traded into Europe centuries earlier than parrots from the Americas (because their movement was not contingent on European trade routes, but on ancient sea and overland spice routes), contemporary viewers had a rough idea of where they came from. However, from the late 19th century, these cockatoos’ Indonesian and New Guinean roots were overlooked and replaced by speculative imaginings of an Australian origin. Reviewing a selection of these artworks, this paper looks at how the responses of cataloguers, printmakers, poets and journalists shifted. It asks whether the misplacing of the cockatoos signals a lack of knowledge of the centuries-old trade networks operating to Australia’s north, or a legacy of empire - a deep sense of unease related to belonging.

Heather Dalton is an Honorary Fellow in History at the University of Melbourne. Her research focus is relationships in maritime trading networks (1450-1650), and early contacts between Australasia and Europe. In September 2022 Heather takes up a 3-month fellowship at the Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence in the History of Experiences (HEX), Tampere University. Her recent publications include: ‘Relationships lost and found in the mid sixteenth-century Iberian Atlantic: an Englishman’s “suffering rewarded”’ in her edited book Keeping Family in an Age of Long Distance Trade, Imperial Expansion, and Exile, 1550-1850 (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2020).

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15 August

Agustín Méndez, Universidad de Buenos Aires

Feeling with Demons: Fear and Rage in Increase and Cotton Mather ́s Demonological Idea (Massachusetts, 1684-1696)

19 September

Dr Miles Pattenden, Australian Catholic University

Priests and Their Wigs in Eighteenth-century Rome

17 October

Georgia Comte, University of Melbourne

Reflections and Distortions: Self-Representation and Idealisation in French Women’s Self-Portraits, 1785-1799

Previous Papers