Early Modern Circle 2019

Ghiberti, Paradise Doors (detail), Baptistery, Florence
Ghiberti, Paradise Doors (detail), Baptistery, Florence
(Photograph: Andrew Stephenson)

Papers for 2019

18 March

Dr Laura Kounine (University of Sussex)

Imagining the Witch: Emotions, Gender and Selfhood in Early Modern Germany
A roundtable, with Professor Charles Zika (University of Melbourne) and Dr Charlotte-Rose Millar (University of Queensland)

Co-presented with the Melbourne node of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions 1100-1800

This month the Early Modern Circle will run a roundtable discussion of visiting historian Dr Laura Kounine's new book Imagining the Witch: Emotions, Gender and Selfhood in Early Modern Germany (Oxford, 2018) with Professor Charles Zika (University of Melbourne) and Dr Charlotte-Rose Millar (University of Queensland). Come along to hear more about new scholarship on the history of emotions, gender, subjectivity and the early modern witch hunts. You may like to read the book’s introduction before the session: it is available as an e-book through the University of Melbourne library catalogue.

Dr Laura Kounine joined the University of Sussex in 2016 as Lecturer in Early Modern History. After completing her PhD at the University of Cambridge, she was a three-year post-doctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for the History of Emotions at the Max Planck Institute in Berlin. In 2014, she was an Early Career International Research Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions at the University of Melbourne, and has co-convened two joint international conferences with CHE in Melbourne and Berlin on ‘Witchcraft and Emotions’. Most recently, she has been awarded British Academy Rising Stars Engagement Award on 'Subjectivity, Self-Narratives and the History of Emotions' (2017-2019). Her research has focused on gender, emotions, selfhood, crime and conflict and early modern witch trials. She has published an article on the gendering on witchcraft in German History, and has co-edited two books, one with Stephen Cummins on Cultures of Conflict Resolution in Early Modern Europe (Routledge, 2016), and the other with Michael Ostling on Emotions in the History of Witchcraft (Palgrave, 2017). Her monograph on Imagining the Witch: Emotions, Gender and Selfhood in Early Modern Germany appeared with Oxford University Press in 2018.

17 April (Wednesday)

Professor Karen Harvey (University of Birmingham)

'Your frequent Inquiry after my Health' : Family, Friends and Embodiment in Eighteenth-Century Letters

Health information was a recurring feature of eighteenth-century letters, in which correspondents regularly exchanged information about their own and other people’s embodied experiences. The physical body was a principal subject around which different communities - of family and kin, friendship and faith - cohered. This paper uses this rich material to examine lay or quotidian languages of embodiment. It focusses in particular on the ways in which people described - or sometimes struggled to describe - embodied experiences, those that were felt to combine the physical and emotional. The paper exposes how language was a resource for people wishing to express their state of health and discusses the social functions that the exchange of health information played within intimate relationships. However, the paper also explores the limits of language and the difficulties writers faced both in making sense of their embodied experiences and in giving their correspondents an adequate sense of their embodied experiences.

Karen Harvey is Professor of Cultural History at the University of Birmingham. She works on Britain in the long eighteenth century and has published on gender & the body, the home and material culture. Her books include Reading Sex in the Eighteenth Century: Bodies and Gender in English Erotic Culture (2004) and The Little Republic: Masculinity and Domestic Authority in Eighteenth-Century Britain (2012). Her forthcoming book is on the case of Mary Toft, who gave birth to rabbits in 1726. Her new project explores experiences of embodiment.

20 May

Professor Peter Howard (Australian Catholic University)

Renaissance Religions: Conceptual and Methodological Challenges

This paper addresses some current issues surrounding approaches to the study of religion in the pre-reformation period. In particular, revisionist approaches to humanism and humanists are forcing a re-evaluation of the framing of belief and the boundaries between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are seen to be more fluid and porous, while a keen interest in devotion and materiality has lent new voice to ‘subaltern’ elements in society. I will be taking Florence in the late fifteenth century as my case study, and examine how newly discovered texts and understandings of antique religions were challenging understandings of the nature of theology and the boundaries of orthodoxy. I will draw upon a manuscript that has hitherto escaped comment in the historiography, viz. a treatise written in 1478 by Lorenzo di Domenico, and addressed to Bernardo del Nero, on the various religions and theologies of the gentiles.

Peter Howard is Director of the Institute for Religion and Critical inquiry at the Australian Catholic University, and formerly Founding Director of the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Monash University. He has published widely in the areas of Italian Renaissance history and medieval sermon studies. He is currently completing a monograph entitled Experiencing Religion in Renaissance Florence: Theologies of the Piazza (Routledge, 2020). His other current research interests include a project on preaching culture and the intellectual moves behind the production of the wall frescoes in the Sistine Chapel (for which he has received an ARC DP19), and the changing conceptual dimensions of how health and urban circumstances of life were conceived of, and reflected upon in the public sphere by way of the pulpit, in theological and moral terms.

19 August

Professor Russell Goulburne (University of Melbourne)

Women Readers and Translators of Latin (especially Horace) in Seventeenth-century France

This paper considers how a small number of women in France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries tested the boundaries of what women were conventionally deemed able to achieve by venturing into the male world of classical learning. Literacy in ancient languages was gendered as male in the early modern period, so by learning Latin, reading ancient writers and even publishing translations of some of those writers’ works, women challenged their exclusion from the world of letters. The paper focuses in particular on translations by women of individual poems by Horace that circulated in the periodical press, and translations of some of his poems that women included as part of published collections of their own works. The number of women publishing in this way is by no means large, but their translations raise interesting questions about their choice of texts, the image they present of Horace and the extent to which they were familiar with, and responding to, prior translations - by men - of Horace’s works.

Russell Goulbourne is Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Professor of French Literature at the University of Melbourne. He has published widely on French literature from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with a particular focus on theatre, Voltaire, Diderot and the reception of Horace's life, material culture and histories of emotion.

16 September

Professor Christopher Ocker (Australian Catholic University)

Virtual Muslims in Fifteenth-century Europe

Recently scholars have drawn our attention to the frequency and depth of contact between Islam and Christendom across the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans at the dawn of early-modern Europe. It seems reasonable to see the implications of these contacts on an emerging sense of local, national, and civilisational identities in predominantly negative terms. Contact encouraged enmity. Didn’t they fear and hate Muslims and Jews? Didn’t their growing sense of what made Europe its own thing depend on the influence of the west’s dominant religion and on medieval and humanistic adaptations of biblical and classical legends of origin? Didn’t Christianity help categorise Iberian Muslims and European Jews as aliens within society who ought to be purged, agents within of external threats to European existence itself?

I’d like to suggest that the emergence of “European” identities at the end of the Middle Ages cannot really be understood in a predominantly endogenous manner, as something that grew from inside its own sources while resisting and undermining perceived internal and external threats, such as heretics, Muslims, or Jews. The weakness of an endogenous approach is made manifest by religious polemic itself - when we read religious polemic against the grain. The argument against the alien reproduced a sense of the other’s presence in the world. That presence may have aroused feelings of aversion, but it also communicated the tenuousness of Christendom, its contingency. The virtual Muslim was a polemical caricature that played a role not merely as a reagent of social or political solidarity (the unity of Christendom over against the Ottoman enemy). He gave evidence of Christendom’s impermanence.

To illustrate this idea, I’d like to consider a peculiar but influential little book by Aeneas Silvio Piccolomini, in his life-phase as Pope Pius II, the Epistola ad Mahometum. The book, its context in a genre of fictional dialogues and letters, and its role in crusade politics all give surprising voice to the importance of virtual Muslims at the end of the Middle Ages.

Professor Christopher Ocker is inaugural Director of Medieval and Early Modern Studies in the Institute of Religion and Critical Inquiry at the Australian Catholic University.

21 October

Dr Knox Peden (University of Melbourne)

Montesquieu’s Passion

Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws (1748) has long been recognized as a classic in the history of political thought for its case for a separation of powers, its approbative analysis of politics in England, and its influence on the founders of the American republic. Yet in the years following the Second World War scholars turned to the French nobleman with an approach that tethered his political ideas to the advent of capitalism. Representing different political tendencies, thinkers such as Louis Althusser, Albert Hirschman, and J.G.A. Pocock - a philosopher, an economist, and a historian - delivered interpretations of Montesquieu's work that clustered around a range of related concepts: interests, principles, manners and morals, and, perhaps most crucially, passions. Their interpretations do not align, even as they connect in certain points. Notoriously discrepant in structure and content, The Spirit of the Laws has sustained divergent readings, among which the convergences are no less significant. My aim in this paper is two-fold; first, to assess these modern readings, using the treatment of ‘passion’ in Montesquieu’s thought as a thread; and second, to consider what work is done by staging Montesquieu as a thinker of epochal transition in a moment when the historical mutability of social arrangements had become a subject of heated political and academic debate. In effect, Montesquieu gives us an opportunity to think more generally about the uses of the early modern.

Dr Knox Peden is Senior Lecturer in the History of Philosophy (Gerry Higgins Lectureship) at the University of Melbourne. From 2020, he will be Senior Lecturer in Continental Philosophy at Flinders University. He is the author of Spinoza Contra Phenomenology: French Rationalism from Cavaill├Ęs to Deleuze (Stanford, 2014), as well as many articles on modern French thought, intellectual history, and historical theory. Oxford will publish his French Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, co-authored with Stephen Gaukroger, in 2020.