Renaissance Society of America Conference, Chicago, 3-5 April 2008

Image: Anna Maria van Schurman, Self portrait (1632) (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Guest Post: Julie Campbell (Eastern Illinois University)

This year’s RSA gathering at the Renaissance Hotel in Chicago was a terrific success from my perspective. When the main complaint in circulation is that there are so many excellent sessions booked concurrently that it is impossible to hear all the papers that one wishes, it would seem that an exciting critical mass of current scholarship has been reached.

I was involved with a group of three panels, all of which were scheduled on Saturday, so I arrived in Chicago on Friday and spent Saturday with the cohort of scholars participating in Diana Robin and Carol Pal’s sessions on Rethinking Early Modern Publication. Session I was “Circles and Circulation in Early Modern Italy and England,” moderated by Elissa Weaver; Session II was “Gender and Manuscript Publication in Late Renaissance Europe,” moderated by Letizia Panizza; and Session III was “The Idea of the ‘Author’ in Early Modern Europe, moderated by Ann Blair. Collectively, these sessions addressed questions regarding authorship, print practices, and manuscript circulation that scholars including Roger Chartier, Margaret Ezell, Arthur Marotti, and numerous others have posed, providing a fascinating set of exempla which inspired much discussion.

Regarding “Circles and Circulation,” Marcy North explored the fashionable world of manuscript verse in Stuart England, discussing the characteristics of the most highly fashionable poems and considering especially the intriguing clusters of poems that traveled together as they were passed from collector to collector. Lynn Westwater’s commentary on the effects of print publication upon the career and reputation of Sara Copio Sullam, a Venetian Jewish writer, sparked a spirited inquiry into Sullam’s choices and the amount of control she had over her own work. Concerning “Gender and Manuscript Publication,” Anne Larsen provided a portrait of Anna Maria van Schurman’s interactions with presses, proving that Schurman’s move from manuscript circulation of her work to print publication was characterized by a fascinating combination of ambivalence on her part and coercion from her sponsors. Sarah Ross discussed the thriving humanist tradition of educating women within the household of Henry Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, the evidence of which may be seen in an extant collection of manuscripts given to Fitzalan by his daughters for New Year’s gifts. I explored how the tutors Nicolas Denisot and Karel Utenhove and the poet Joachim du Bellay circulated the works of daughters of two prominent families, that of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, and that of Jean de Morel, sieur de Grigny, creating international connections between these families and others and bolstering their own reputations in the process. Finally, regarding “The Idea of the ‘Author,’” Meredith Ray examined Ortensio Lando’s “female impersonations” in his work, much of which he wrote under women’s names, especially that of Lucrezia Gonzaga. Ray raised the provocative questions, how does one characterize the interaction between these two figures? Was it appropriation of a name and a reputation, or was there a literary partnership at work? Carol Pal detailed the enormous reach of the author, editor, publisher, and religious activist Samuel Hartlib, positing that the instances of corporate authorship that may be seen in his circle, as well as the combination of scribal publication and print, illustrate an important chapter in the history of the book. Amanda Herbert Bilby concluded these sessions with her discussion of Hannah Woolly, the author of recipe books so esteemed that her name and much of her writing were commandeered by plagiarists who inserted their own copy in the texts, copy that was usually focused more on women’s behavior and morals than on recipes.

On Sunday, during lunch with friends who were involved in these panels, the conversation naturally turned to our assessment of the sessions and the audiences that they attracted. We were pleased with the sizable audience that each group of papers attracted and the enthusiasm of those who stayed for the discussions, but we noticed a trend: some audience members would come for a paper by a scholar from their discipline—in these cases, English literature/history, Italian literature/history, and French literature/history—then slip out. This trend is understandable—we all target specific papers that we would like to hear as we look over the conference schedule and plan our days—but a key goal of these cross-national, cross-disciplinary sessions was to introduce others to the possibilities of fruitful collaboration between scholars from these disciplines. In the future, we hope to find ways to entice audience members to stay for whole sessions and join in the considerations of the macro-trends and international connections that such presentations illustrate.

Although my time at RSA was mainly spent in these sessions, the other papers that I heard and the opportunities to re-connect with friends and acquaintances, as well as the opportunities to meet new ones, all reaffirmed for me the value of this very large and convivial conference.


See also: “Cross-Channel Connections: Early Modern English Noblewomen’s Familiarity with Continental Women’s Literary and Performance Practices“, Julie Campbell, Literature Compass 4.3 (2007): 751-765, doi:10.1111/j.1741-4113.2007.00449.x

One thought on “Renaissance Society of America Conference, Chicago, 3-5 April 2008

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