Month: October 2016

Blog: UConn Early Modern Studies Working Group

Prof. Kenneth Gouwens (UConn History) writing about his research trip to the Folger Shakespeare Library

lykosthenes_21det-copy-croppedIt’s always a rich opportunity to visit the Folger. At the peak of the August heat wave, I spent the two days in air-conditioned comfort working through rare books that I’d identified on an earlier trip as meriting more attention. Seated in the beautiful older wing, I first returned to Hieronymus Fabricius ab Aquapendente, one of the foremost anatomists in the initial generations after Vesalius’s On the Fabric of the Human Body (1543). As part of a larger project on the simian/human boundary in the Renaissance, I’ve analyzed just how Vesalius criticized the ancient physician Galen for dissecting barbary apes in lieu of human cadavers. Following the lead of Aristotle, Fabricius devoted attention not just to the human but to a variety of animals to assess how they propel themselves, to what extent they are capable of vocalizing, etc. My interest had been piqued by his pointing out how both Galen and Vesalius had erred, the latter, for example, in describing the musculature of the feet: clearly Fabricius was not one to shy away from going toe-to-toe with the greats. It turns out, though, that he invokes simians little if at all in his corrections of Vesalius. In short, my hunch didn’t pan out, but I was able to find that out efficiently and now know better how Fabricius fits into the story I’m telling.


More productive was directly comparing two books on prodigies: one by the Alsatian humanist Conrad Lycosthenes and the other by the English cleric Stephan Batman. Only when going through my notes and photos (for study purposes) of images had I noticed how closely Batman’s English resembled the Latin of Lycosthenes’s text (I’d looked at them months apart, two years ago). Sure enough, bateman_16det-copy-croppedBatman’s The Doome warning all men to Iudgemente (1581), which he had “gathered out of sundrie approved authors,” turns out to be mostly a close translation of Lycosthenes’ Prodigiorum ac ostentorum chronicon (1557). Examining the books side by side enabled me to see just how closely the illustrations in Batman’s book also mimicked those of its antecedent. For example, there’s a strong family resemblance between their portrayals of a baboon (pauyon), a hairy animal of India that enjoys fruit and lusts after human females. In both cases we are told about a specimen of this beast on display in Germany in 1551.


Batman’s image of the tailed ape (cercopithecus), by contras   t, is modeled more loosely upon that in Lycosthenes — which in turn is obviously based on the highly influential image in Breydenbach’s 1486 Latin book on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. So, in a brief time at the Folger, I was able to see the distinctions and similarities, both literary and artistic, in how knowledge was being transmitted among these authors.


Rare books were of course central to the trip, but I’d be remiss not to mention afternoon tea in the Folger’s basement. Rather like the coffee bar at the Vatican Library, it provides a locus for shop-talk with others working in the collection. I highly recommend to all researchers that they carve out time for the tea. In fact, that’s where I got some key tips on questions to ask about my favorite image in the Folger, an engraving of a monkey wearing a ruff. But that’s a subject for another time. Warm thanks to UConn’s Folger Committee for making this trip possible!


October 14, Amy Shuster: “The finest rule of life we have” on the value of ambiguity for democratic praxis

The Injustice League lecture series brings together philosophers and political theorists working on issues of injustice. We focus on inviting junior faculty who aren’t typically given this kind of forum.

Amy Shuster (Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy The Ohio State University)

Date: 10/14

“The finest rule of life we have” on the value of ambiguity for democratic praxis

Danielle Allen’s Our Declaration (2015) revitalized interest in the U.S. Declaration of Independence among those committed to equality as a foundational American ideal—especially feminists, anti-racists, and anti-colonialists.  But the meaning of the document has a checkered history in the United States and abroad.  While some—like David Walker, Justice Taney, and Malcolm X—point to the civil and political subordination of women, slaves, freed persons, the poor, American-Indians, and the indigenous people in other parts of the world at the founding (and in various forms to this day) as reason to think that the document is merely political cover for domination, others—like Abraham Lincoln, Anita Whitney, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ho Chi Minh—have found in it a promise of equality for future generations, regardless of nationality.  What are the principles of interpretation that lie behind such a diverse set of readings, especially of the document’s distinctive phrases like “all men are created equal”?  Are all of them equally defensible upon reflection?  I aim to weaken both the starry-eyed disposition to find too much in the Declaration and the hard-nosed determination to find too little.  In the end, I vindicate its meaning for democrats who are committed to a principle of equal inclusion in an on-going political community characterized by a variety of differences among its members.