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Encountering Alchemy

On October 28, 2017, several members of the UConn Early Modern Studies community participated in “Encounters: Alchemy & Science” at the Hartford History Center sponsored by the Humility and Conviction in Public Life project at UConn in partnership with the Amistad Center for Art and Culture, the Hartford History Center, the Hartford Public Library, and the Wadsworth Atheneum. Debapriya Sarkar (English) and Walt Woodward (History) served on a panel of faculty experts for the event. Below is a wrap-up written for us by Debapriya Sarkar:

The public humanities event on “Encounters: Alchemy & Science” convened at the Hartford History Center centered around the relationships among science, alchemy, religion, and politics. The discussion aimed to use the art—or science, or esoteric practice—of alchemy to test the boundaries between modernity and pre-modernity. In order to facilitate a common starting point, participants (who ranged from members of the local community to students and faculty from UConn) began the session by reading short excerpts from Albertus Magnus’s writings on alchemy (13th century), Fama Fraternitus (c. 1610-1614), and a “Letter from Jonathan Brewster to John Winthrop, Jr.” (January 31, 1656) (available here: http://hhc.hplct.org/encounters-alchemy-science/). These texts immediately exposed all attendees to some of the main issues of alchemy: the relation of art to nature, the importance of secret knowledge, the idea of perfection as it pertains to both religious and epistemological contexts, and contemporary disagreements about the usefulness of alchemy.

It was striking how quickly the common texts provoked a wide range of questions: what are the boundaries between “scientific knowledge” and “alchemical knowledge”? Who gets to be designated an “alchemist”? How does the practice of alchemy test the boundaries between “science” and “belief”? In a culture where alchemy was often related to fraud, were there avenues for policing or censoring it? How successful was alchemy in its goals? How do we reconcile the contradictory views, that alchemy was both the precursor to modern chemistry and a useless form of practical knowledge? How did alchemy become vital to discussions of perfection in the New World? What is the status of alchemy today, or—are there living alchemists? As our ensuing discussions made evident, the answers to these questions were often multifaceted. For instance, it is not always clear what the “success” of alchemy means—while alchemists might not have attained their final aim of transforming base metals into gold, they achieved enough changes in chemical reactions of entities to convince themselves that the translation of metals was possible.

While a significant portion of the discussion was devoted to the status of alchemy in the pre-modern period, one of the abiding concerns of the group centered around the relationship of the past to the present, or more specifically, how could our understanding of alchemy as a practice, or even as a way of being, shape our comprehension of our current social, political, and intellectual moment? To this end, we discussed topics like the centrality of religion or religious discourse in science—while pre-modern alchemists claimed that the alchemical perfection would mirror or fulfill God’s perfect creation, modern science explicitly distances itself from religious discussion. We also encountered how our concerns about changes in nature (for example, on the topic of climate change) forces us to grapple with competing points of view about knowledge and belief, in ways similar to those found in alchemical discourse. Thus, the discussion enabled us to see what while the specific problems faced by alchemists might not seem relevant, the larger questions of expertise, knowledge, faith, belief, and power that were central to the lives of alchemical practitioners resonate in surprising ways with our own understandings of intellectual, religious, and intellectual life.

UConn at the Northeast Conference on British Studies

This year’s Northeast Conference on British Studies (NECBS), held at Endicott College, was well attended by members of UCONN’s Early Modern Studies Working Group. Graduate students and faculty from both the History Department and English Department presented at the conference. This included a panel with three participants from UCONN (find a full list of UCONN participants and panel/paper titles below titles below). Professor Brendan Kane (UCONN) organized the program for the conference, which took place on October 13th and 14th. During the proceedings, the NECBS confirmed him as the new organization president. Around fifty or sixty people attended, resulting in a very collegial atmosphere. While a full schedule can be found online, the conference featured a wide variety of panels with Early Modern Topics, including a panel on Early Modern West Africa chaired by John Thornton, and a panel on Dutch/British exchanges in the Late Tudor and Early Stuart periods.

Shannon McSheffrey (Concordia University) gave the keynote presentation on her new book, Seeking Sanctuary: Crime, Mercy and Politics in English Courts, 1400-1550. McSheffrey’s talk explored how people accused of crimes in England used church land as santuary. The accused would often live in exile until family members could garner them a pardon. Members of the nobility, engaged in a violent honor culture, regularly took advantage of sanctuary. Much of McSheffrey’s presentation focused on the importance of the Knights Hospitaller in the process of granting sanctuary. Due to their association with mercy in English life, criminals regularly sought out members of the order for sanctuary.

While the conference was obviously focused on the British Isles, the panels reflected a transnational and transatlantic approach to Early Modern history. As an Early Americanist, I was particularly excited to find panels and papers dealing with Africa, the West Indies, North America, and mainland Europe. I would recommend to the conference to any Early Americanist seeking to broaden their geographic scope or interested in taking a transatlantic approach. Next year, NECBS will be hosting the North American Conference on British Studies in Providence.

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UCONN Participants:

Hilary Bogert-Winkler (PhD. Candidate, History): “‘Too like the sons of Israel’: Royalism, Exile, and Israel during the Interregnum”

Nathan Braccio (PhD Candidate, History): “Willing exile: The choice to move to the spatial/social periphery in 17th-century New England”

Clare Costley King’oo (English): “Henry VIII, Joan Fish, and A Supplicacyon for the Beggers (1528/29)”

Edward Guimont (PhD Candidate, History): “Indian political leverage in the Commonwealth of Nations, 1947-64”

Robert Howe (PhD Candidate, History): “We may have of them whatsoever we will desire”: The Sovereign’s Stripping of the Abbeys in Scotland

Brendan Kane (History): “Léamh: Learn Early Modern Irish – a digital guide to reading and paleography, c. 1200-1650”

by Nathan Braccio (PhD Candidate, History)

 

 

 

Léamh: Learn Early Modern Irish Officially Launches

From October 3-5, 2017, Celticists, historians, and literary scholars from both sides of the Atlantic gathered at UConn for “Re-Reading the Revolution: A Conference Launching Léamh: Learn Early Modern Irish (léamh.org)”. The purpose of the conference was four-fold: to launch the Léamh website for the public; to work together on some translations for the site; to bring together Celticists, historians, and literary scholars in one room to discuss how scholarship could be deepened through the greater use of Celtic language sources; and to examine what that could look like through a series of papers and roundtables about the mid-seventeenth century conflicts in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

The conference began with “One Day, One Text,” which brought together Celtic language scholars and learners to translate several texts for the Léamh website. Participants gathered both digitally and in-person at the UConn Hartford campus to learn about the Léamh site and to do some “hands on” work with it. The group worked on ‘Eireóchthar fós le cloinn gColla,’ which will be added to the site for public use at a later date. October 4 was dedicated to a series of research panels as well as the official launch of the Léamh website. The research panels—“Ireland and an Ghaeilge in an age of Revolution, 1630-1660,” “Wales and y Gymraeg in an age of Revolution, 1630-1660,” and “Scotland and an Ghàidhlig in an age of Revolution, 1630-1660”—presented a series of papers that demonstrated just how dynamic scholarship that incorporates Celtic language sources can be.

The final day of the conference consisted of roundtables focused on the themes of “culture and society,” “ideas, religion, and memory,” and “transnational perspectives.” Here panelists presented their views on the state of the field and how Celtic language sources can contribute to current scholarship, and then the floor was opened up for everyone in the room. There ensued lively conversations and speculations about where the field is headed, what new questions scholars can/should be asking, and how these issues affect graduate education and professionalization.

We’d like to thank everyone who participated in the conference, and invite you all to check out the Léamh website.

Nashe Harrows Harvey, who Hellishly Gnashes his Teeth

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On September 7-9, Ken Gouwens (History) attended the Folger Institute’s Fall Symposium, “Thomas Nashe and His Contemporaries.” Below are his thoughts on the event:

This past weekend I was so fortunate as to participate in a symposium at the Folger on “Thomas Nashe and His Contemporaries,” a summit for scholars of the most exuberant and perversely creative of all Elizabethan wits. I was drawn to the event because my book-in-progress on monkeys and humans includes a chapter on “apes of Cicero” that closes with a discussion of the flyting (verbal jousting) between Nashe and the Ciceronian rhetorician Gabriel Harvey in the 1590s. I’ve returned home laden with useful bibliography, including a reference to Thomas Dekker’s Seven Deadly Sinnes of London, the fifth of which is “Apishnesse.” Who knew? Certainly not I, but soon I’ll see what I can glean from it!

This ranks among the most enriching symposia I have ever attended. For two days we were immersed in lively, congenial, and deeply learned conversations about a challenging author whose work has defied generic classification. Presiding over the sessions were the editors of a new critical edition of Nashe’s works, which Oxford University Press will publish as a six-volume set. We discussed subjects as diverse as editorial protocols, urban geography, the physical production and layout of pamphlets, the soundscapes of Nashe’s London, and the difficulties of interpreting a thinker equally comfortable with expressions of religious piety (in Christ’s Teares Over Jerusalem), playful eroticism (in The Choise of Valentines or the Merie Ballad of Nash His Dildo)  and graphic descriptions of extreme violence (in The Unfortunate Traveller). While he consciously imitated the flamboyant Italian writer Pietro Aretino (known as “The Scourge of Princes”), in his prose Nashe can appear uncannily like Rabelais, whose works however he had not read.

How does a high-quality, inspiring symposium like this come to be? Certainly the organizers deserve great credit. The opening lecture, “Thomas Nashe’s London,” delivered jointly by Jenny Richards and Andrew Hadfield, set the stage beautifully. Participants ranged from second-year graduate students to professors who hold endowed chairs at major universities, and to the distinct credit of the latter, there was never any condescension. On the contrary, fledgling Elizabethanists (and non-Elizabethanists such as I) could float ideas knowing that they would not be shot down but instead could open up fresh lines of inquiry. Meanwhile, our gracious hosts Owen Williams and Elyse Martin did the Folger Institute proud: all ran smoothly. I’m immensely grateful for this opportunity. To anyone considering participating in the Institute’s offerings, I can only say, emphatically: Apply!

Publishing NOW!

George Thompson, CLAS, Publisher-in-Residence
October 24-27, 2017 

George Thompson has been a professional editor since 1984, beginning his career at Johns Hopkins University Press as an acquisitions editor. At JHUP, George developed the geography and environmental studies list, including the “Creating the North American Landscape” series.  In 1990, George founded the Center for American Places, which he directed and served as publisher until November 2010, when he founded his own imprint. Books developed and published under George’s care have won more than 100 book awards, honors, and prizes, including best-book recognition in 31 academic fields.  George is also the editor, co-editor or author of five books of his own and has served as publisher-in-residence at a number of universities. More information is available here http://www.gftbooks.com/about.html 

If you would like to meet with George during his visit, please contact Maria Shah (alldnof@uconn.edu) 860-486-2713 in the CLAS Dean’s Office to schedule an appointment.

Appointment times are listed in Google Docs at: https://docs.google.com/document/d/14gMkYc2Y1m1PyFxcF_40R65Wg5Ofb8kdQmNPBH4HrAI/edit?usp=sharing

Publishing NOW!

Angie Hogan, University of Virginia Press
October 10, 2017, 4pm 

Angie Hogan is Associate Editor and Rights Manager at the University of Virginia Press, where she has worked in the acquisitions department since 2004. Prior to joining U.Va. Press, she spent several years as an editor at InteLex Corporation, a pioneer in humanities electronic publishing best known for the Past Masters series. At Virginia, Ms. Hogan maintains a broad, multidisciplinary list focused primarily on early-modern, eighteenth-century, and Enlightenment studies. She also manages the Walker Cowen Manuscript Prize competition as well as the Press’s contracts and subsidiary rights. Books for which Ms. Hogan served as acquiring editor have been chosen for the Baker-Burton Award, the NeMLA Book Award, and the Choice list of Outstanding Academic Titles.

Publishing NOW!

 

 

 

 

Adam McGee, Boston Review
October 2, 2017, 4pm 

Adam McGee is the Managing Editor of Boston Review. He previously was Acting Managing Editor for Transition. He also served as Associate Editor for the Harvard Art Museums. Adam earned his Ph.D. in African and African American Studies from Harvard University. He has taught religious and cultural studies and cultural anthropology at Harvard University, Tufts University, and Northeastern University, and has published a number of scholarly articles on Haitian Vodou. In addition, Adam is a Pushcart nominee whose poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Cimarron ReviewPainted Bride QuarterlyMemoriousAssaracusRHINOThe Doctor T.J. Eckleburg ReviewSAND JournalBayou Magazine, and other places. To learn more or to contact him, visit www.adammichaelmcgee.com.

 

 

 

Debapriya Sarkar joins the English Department and the Maritime Studies Program at Avery Point in Fall 2017.

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She works on early modern literature and culture, poetry and poetics, the history and philosophy of science, and environmental humanities. She is currently working on a book titled Possible Knowledge: The Literary Forms of Early Modern Science. She joins UConn after having taught at Hendrix College, and after spending the 2016-2017 academic year at the Folger Shakespeare Library as a NEH/ Folger Shakespeare Library Long-Term Fellow.

 

Although you started your education in engineering, you ended up studying early modern literature.  How did that shift happen?

The intellectual connections between my background in electrical engineering and my current research are only clear in retrospect. My engineering education was quite technical, practical, and instrumental. I worked on fascinating topics, but I now recognize that I was less curious about "how" things worked (the foundation of my engineering education) and more interested in the historical and conceptual issues behind these technologies: Where did scientific ideas emerge from? What are the theoretical paradigms that underlie the practical and instrumental aspects of modern engineering? What historical, social, and institutional pressures led to the emergence of modern scientific practices? Who has access to scientific and technical knowledge in a society? These were the kinds of questions that animated my intellectual interests, and these are the concerns of humanists—literary and cultural critics, historians and philosophers of science. Thus, when I had the opportunity to explore these questions in a more formal setting (as I was completing my Master’s in Electrical Engineering in UW-Madison), I embraced the opportunity and took several classes in the English department. I was fortunate to meet generous faculty in the department who not only welcomed me into their classes, but also gave me advice about what other courses to take and how to build a curriculum in English around my Master’s courses.

How do you think your background has shaped your literary scholarship?

My background has deeply influenced my current interests. I work on the history of scientific probability and experimental practice, and I write on ideas of possibility and uncertainty in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These are clearly questions related to my engineering background. Engineers are tasked with actualizing possibilities, after all, and they often develop what we might call imperfect models, as they adapt scientific theories to workable and instrumental ends. In my current research, I consider the imaginative and creative practices that often undergird such scientific work. Thus, you could say that my current research is a response to the kinds of knowledge-making that I saw in operation, but that were never discussed, in my earlier education. In both my research and teaching, I trace the changing configurations of imaginative and natural knowledge into the modern disciplines of the humanities and the sciences. However, I also stress that literary methods not only represented or enacted scientific practices, but that the lines of influence often worked in the opposite direction: imaginative techniques also shaped modern scientific theories and methods.

What appeals to you about the early modern period, and why should it be a presence in curriculum and research today?



The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were periods of tremendous religious, political, and intellectual upheavals. Whether you think about the Copernican revolution in the sixteenth century that displaced both earth and man from the center of the universe, or consider the Civil War in the seventeenth century that beheaded a king and disrupted political order, early moderns were grappling with new understandings of self, society, even cosmology. It is in this atmosphere that poets, dramatists, and writers of prose fiction—from More to Spenser, from Shakespeare to Jonson, from Milton to Cavendish—used imaginative writing to grapple with the biggest political, moral, ethical, and philosophical questions of their time. And it is in this era that philosophers from Machiavelli to Galileo, from Descartes to Bacon, from Hobbes to Pascal attempted to redefine paradigms of truth, of norms, of existence. Working with such rich archives expands and complicates our own parameters of inquiry. For instance, Francis Bacon was writing utopian fiction and natural philosophy at the same time. What I find most rewarding about writing on and teaching such materials is that their capacious cross-convergence provokes us to make connections between disparate intellectual methods, disciplines, and ideas.

Ultimately, what is most exciting to me—and what I try to demonstrate to students—is that literature was a vibrant philosophical endeavor in its own right: at a moment when astronomers and natural philosophers were grappling with new accounts of the cosmos, literary writing was generating the forms of thinking that were vital to the exchange of ideas about natural and imaginary worlds. Thus, teaching and writing on early modern texts has the potential to make us rethink our own approaches as humanists: the cross-disciplinary nature of early modern thinking was made possible by stepping across the boundaries of the humanities and the sciences that we often take for granted. Recognizing the value of such interdisciplinary convergences might help us see our own institutional networks in new ways. 

 

How do you envision your scholarly work and teaching on early modern studies to benefit from and contribute to UConn?

 

I am thrilled to be joining the early modern community at UConn. I am especially excited to be in conversation with faculty and graduate students in the Early Modern Studies Working Group—the varied research interests of colleagues will no doubt expand my thinking, and the interdisciplinary nature of the group seems ideal to foster discussions that expose us to new methodologies and ideas. I would be delighted to get involved in venues such as the Humanities Institute; from participations in similar collaborative networks in the past, I have realized that such conversations are invaluable in introducing us to approaches and methods with which we are unfamiliar. At the same time, our scholarship as early modernists can also advance and diversify the research goals of such forums by allowing us to track the changing contours of knowledge across a broad historical span and theorize its future institutional and disciplinary divisions.

 

I am eager to offer graduate courses that are conceptual and theoretical in scope—on science and philosophy, on environmental humanities, and on poetry and poetics—which will be of interest both to specialists and non-specialists, as well as classes on Renaissance women writers and on genres such as romance and epic that will be of particular interest to early modernists. At Avery Point, I am looking forward to tapping into the campus’s strong maritime tradition when I teach courses on Shakespeare—many of whose plays feature sea voyages and shipwrecks—or Early Modern Travel and Utopia: I expect a lot of our classes will ruminate on the relations between land and sea, between coast and shore, as we look out on the beautiful Long Island Sound every week.

The UCONN Collaborative to Advance Equity Through Research on Women and Girls of Color and The Humanities Institute

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The UCONN Collaborative to Advance Equity Through Research on Women and Girls of Color (“The Collaborative”) is a part of the national Collaborative, comprising over 50 institutions and universities, with Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry and the Anna Julia Cooper Center at Wake Forest University, serving at its helm. These institutions and universities are signatories to a national commitment to support research on women and girls of color. UCONN committed to this effort as early as November 2015, and 2016-2017 served as the inaugural year of full programming dedicated to promoting research and campus and community engagement of research and discourses on women and girls of color.

Part of UCONN’s commitment included funding two post-doctoral fellowships and several research projects on women and girls of color, related to environment and public health and STEM and pipeline issues. (See the research abstracts, here). In an effort for The Collaborative to build a brain trust committed to sorting through research topics, discourses, and contemporary issues affecting women of color, as they relate to the two themes, it co-sponsored research workshops with the Humanities Institute.

The Collaborative also joined with UCHI in co-sponsorship of its research workshops to promote The Collaborative’s Brain Trust(s) for its Post-Doctoral Fellows, Research Fellows, and contributing scholars at the University of Connecticut. The Humanities Institute has contributed to these Research Workshops by hosting a welcoming, supportive, and enriching intellectual space to flesh out ideas and refine multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research on women of color.

UCHI looks forward to continued work with the Collaborative to Advance Equity Through Research on Women and Girls of Color!