2017-2018 Scholarly Programs

This article lists the programming of the Folger Institute for the 2017–2018 academic year. For more past programming, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

Gender, Race, and Early Modern Studies

2017-2018 Colloquium
With a few notable exceptions, early modern scholars have not consistently wed gender and race studies as effectively as those working on later periods. Yet race in the early modern period is a concept at the crossroads of a set of overlapping concerns of lineage, religion, sexuality, custom, and nation. These categories often serve as support or solvent to the terms and relations by which the early modern category of “woman” is understood. This year-long colloquium will thoroughly explore the works that women read and wrote, in which they are represented, and in which they represent themselves, to put gender in consistent and contested conversation with race. Scholars working on a wide variety of genres, including religious and medical tracts, domestic and conduct manuals, travel narratives, poetry, and drama, are invited to apply to participate in a gathering that will utilize the wealth of relevant Folger materials. They will have the opportunity to workshop their own writing as well as to discuss approaches and directions in the broader field with invited presenters.
DirectorsKimberly Anne Coles is Associate Professor of English at the University of Maryland. Author of Religion, Reform, and Women’s Writing in Early Modern England (2008), she recently co-edited The Cultural Politics of Blood, 1500-1900 (2015). Her current book project, “‘A Fault of Humour’: The Constitution of Belief in Early Modern England” deals with the medical and philosophical context that makes moral constitution a physiological, heritable feature of the blood. Ayanna Thompson is Professor of English at George Washington University. She is the author of Teaching Shakespeare with Purpose: A Student-Centred Approach (2016), Passing Strange: Shakespeare, Race, and Contemporary America (2011), and Performing Race and Torture on the Early Modern Stage (2008). She is the editor of Weyward Macbeth: Intersections of Race and Performance (2010) and Colorblind Shakespeare: New Perspectives on Race and Performance (2006).
Invited Presenters: Patricia Akhimie (Rutgers University), Dennis Britton (University of New Hampshire), Ruben Espinosa (University of Texas-El Paso), Melissa Sanchez (University of Pennsylvania), and Reginald Wilburn (University of New Hampshire).

Thomas Nashe and His Contemporaries

Fall Symposium
Co-sponsored with “The Thomas Nashe Project” funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK), this symposium explores the works and significance of Thomas Nashe (1567 – c.1600), an innovative writer whose influence on prose extends well beyond his own period. Nashe was also a significant dramatist, collaborating with Marlowe, Jonson, and Shakespeare, while his bitter quarrel with the humanist educator, Gabriel Harvey, and his part in the Marprelate controversy expanded the possibilities of English invective and satire. Showcasing the Folger’s exceptional manuscript and print collection of his writings, the symposium will help recover Nashe and his world—especially London, Cambridge, and Great Yarmouth. Session topics will include geographies, oral/aural culture, genres, drama, popular culture, and pamphlets; two dozen participants with relevant projects will be welcomed to join the conversation.
Organizers: Professors Jennifer Richards (Newcastle University), Andrew Hadfield (University of Sussex), Cathy Shrank (University of Sheffield), Joseph Black (University of Massachusetts, Amherst), and Kate De Rycker (Newcastle University) represent “The Thomas Nashe Project,” which will produce a new, multi-volume edition of Nashe’s works for Oxford University Press. They have developed this symposium in collaboration with Drs. Kathleen Lynch and Owen Williams of the Folger Institute.

Researching the Archive

Yearlong Dissertation Seminar
This monthly seminar focuses on the wealth of archival material available for the study of the history, culture, society, and literature of early modern Britain and Europe. Seminar participants will explore a variety of printed and manuscript sources relevant to both English and History Ph.D. candidates and will learn (with the assistance of Folger staff) some essential research skills. Throughout, the goal will be to foster interdisciplinary scholarship while considering broad methodological and theoretical problems relevant to current work in early modern studies. Preference will be given to applicants who have completed course work and preliminary exams; they should be preparing a prospectus or beginning to write chapters and be ready to make significant use of the Library’s collections as part of their monthly visits. Applicants should consult with their dissertation directors before applying to ensure that their work is at a stage that would benefit from the seminar, and their directors should certify that this is the case in their recommendation letters. Those whose dissertations are substantially complete will not be competitive applicants.
Co-directorsAnn Blair is Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor in the Department of History at Harvard University where she teaches courses in the history of the book, early modern intellectual and cultural history, and French history. Her publications include Too Much To Know: Managing Scholarly Information Before the Modern Age (2010). Her current book project focuses on the role and working methods of amanuenses from 1500 to 1650. Peter Stallybrass is Annenberg Professor in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania, where he directs the History of Material Texts. He has done extensive research at the Folger, collaborating on projects with Heather Wolfe and Frank Mowery. He is at present working with Roger Chartier on a history of the book from wax tablets to e-books.

Conjugality and Early Modern Political Thought

Fall Semester Seminar
Sponsored by the Folger Institute Center for the History of British Political Thought
How does thinking about conjugality—espousals, marriage, sexuality, polygamy, concubinage, reproduction, and divorce—contribute to political thought in early modernity? This seminar asks how marriage figures in its history: as a founding fiction of Adam and Eve in a state of nature, and as the modern sexual regimes of consigning the family and sexuality to the intimate sphere. Marriage was understood as a primary example of contract, not only one that prevents women from political and economic participation in the polity, but as a locus of inquiry around consent, intention, and the legal bond. There is, further, a story of modern marriage as one of secularization and privatization. The seminar will build upon and query these approaches and develop new questions for understanding how conjugality contributed to a number of developments: Natural Law theories in response to non-European sexual arrangements; the geopolitics of inter-confessional alliance, warfare, and expansion; the "family" concept (normative sexuality, procreation, gendered hierarchy, personhood); and Reformers’ preference for Roman civil law to refresh ancient concepts such as equity. Participants from history, political theory, literature, and related disciplines are welcome. 
Director: Sharon Achinstein, Sir William Osler Professor of English at The Johns Hopkins University, is the author of two monographs, Milton and the Revolutionary Reader (1994) and Literature and Dissent in Milton’s England (2003) and two edited collections, Milton and Toleration (2007) and Literature, Gender and the English Revolution (1994). Her edition of Milton's writings on divorce is forthcoming from the Oxford University Press.

Shakespeare’s Virtues: Ethics, Entertainment, and Education

Faculty Weekend Seminar
Virtue belongs to ethics, where it harbors deep affinities with performance, whether in Aristotle’s emphasis on habit and practice, in the link between virtue and the virtual through ideas of latency and dynamism, or in the qualities of the virtuoso as an expert performer of multiple arts and knowledges. This two-day seminar will explore the connections among ethics, entertainment, and education, using Shakespeare’s works as both laboratory and studio. The powerful connections among moral philosophy, physical performance, and liberal education have much to teach us about what the arts and humanities have to offer to education today. The seminar will invite participants to consider the forms of Renaissance entertainment explored and practiced in Shakespeare’s plays in the context of a range of historical and modern discourses, including medical humanities, environmental theater, devised theater, and distributed and embodied cognition. The ultimate concern of the seminar is to address virtue as a switch point between popular performance, moral philosophy, and theories and practices of humanist education, considered historically and in the contemporary moment.
DirectorJulia Reinhard Lupton is Professor of English at the University of California, Irvine. Her most recent monographs are Thinking with Shakespeare: Essays on Politics and Life (2011) and Citizen-Saints: Shakespeare and Political Theology (2005). She had edited several volumes, including Arden Critical Guide to Romeo and JulietPolitical Theology and Early Modernity (2012; with Graham Hammill) and Shakespeare and Hospitality (2016; with David Goldstein). Shakespeare Dwelling: Designs for the Theater of Life is forthcoming from the University of Chicago.

Introduction to English Paleography

December Week-long Skills Course
This weeklong course provides an intensive introduction to handwriting in early modern England, with a particular emphasis on the English secretary hand of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries. Working from manuscripts in the Folger collection, up to fifteen participants will be trained in the accurate reading and transcription of secretary, italic, and mixed hands. They will also experiment with contemporary writing materials (quills, iron gall ink, and paper), learn the terminology for describing and comparing letterforms, and become skillful decipherers of abbreviations, numbers, and dates. All transcriptions made by participants will become part of the Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO) corpus.
DirectorHeather Wolfe is Curator of Manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Dr. Wolfe has published widely on manuscripts in early modern England and is currently thinking about hybrid books, early modern writing paper, and filing systems. She is also Principal Investigator of the EMMO Project.

After the Great Instauration

Spring Semester Seminar
In 1620 Sir Francis Bacon announced his six-part plan, the Great Instauration, for reforming human learning. Nothing less than everything was at stake: the study of nature; the stocktaking and reconstitution of human habits of thought; the beliefs and practices of Protestantism; the desiderata of social and political institutions; and the apocalyptic transformation of the world. How was this project assessed and reinvented by English poets, theologians, natural philosophers, physicians, and political theorists? How did the mid-century English civil war and its extraordinary aftermath shape or inflect the conception and implications of Bacon’s project? Did the Great Instauration bear significance for women in particular? Topics include: religion and natural philosophy; science, poetics, and myth; notions of heroism; Lucretius, atomism, and women; the infinite universe; alchemy and magic; corpuscularian physics; language reform and the search for a universal language; epistemology; optical technologies; social institutions of the new philosophy; civil war appropriations; and rival etiologies of disease. 
DirectorReid Barbour is Roy C. Moose Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has published extensively on early modern natural philosophy, including major work on Sir Thomas Browne and Lucy Hutchinson. With Brooke Conti, he is currently editing Browne’s Religio Medici for Oxford University Press. He is the editor of Studies in Philology.

Image and Knowledge in Early Modern Books

Faculty Weekend Seminar
This seminar will examine the ways in which images in early modern books participated in the production and circulation of knowledge ca. 1450–1800. Although during this period visual materials played central roles in books and in knowledge practices, the visual component of early modern books has often been neglected by the history of the book as a field. Twelve to sixteen scholars whose work intersects with a number of related fields will be selected to participate. Topics of discussion may include: comparisons across graphic-rich genres such as natural history, cartography, medicine, ethnography, antiquarianism, and historical accounts; the various types of work that images performed, including evidentiary, emblematic, allegorical, illustrative, and ornamental; images in printed versus manuscript books; the relationships between images, texts, and objects; the artistic and artisanal practices, materials, and techniques used to create images; the spaces and people involved in making and interpreting images; trust and mistrust of images in books; and the roles that images played in mediating cultural encounters between Western and non-Western cultures and traditions. Participants will engage with an exhibition curated by Caroline Duroselle-Melish, Folger Curator of Books and Prints, illustrating this rich and diverse visual history through the Folger collection of prints and engravings.
DirectorDaniela Bleichmar is Associate Professor of Art History and History at the University of Southern California. She is the author of Visible Empire. Botanical Expeditions and Visual Culture in the Hispanic Enlightenment (2012) and Visual Voyages: Images of Latin American Nature from Columbus to Darwin (2017). Her research addresses the history of science, visual culture, and material culture in colonial Latin American and early modern Europe, focusing particularly on matters of cultural contact and exchange.

The London Bills of Mortality

Spring Symposium
In the mid-1550s, London’s Court of Aldermen directed the Company of Parish Clerks to compile weekly reports of the number of burials in each City parish that included a cause for each death. These became the famous Bills of Mortality, a significant feature of London life for three centuries, evolving in form and content with the metropolis they recorded. The Bills illuminate aspects of early-modern London’s governance, print culture, and appetite for news. The process of compilation, including reliance on parish “searchers” to determine causes of death, provides clues to social conditions, gender roles, and the interests of the City’s governors. The data reported contribute to understanding the City’s shifting demography and social topography; perceptions of diagnosis, disease, and death; the history of plague; and contemporary interest in quanti­tative knowledge. The symposium aims to bring together scholars working on these topics to examine the early modern Bills in detail—including the Folger’s unique manuscript report from 1591—and to explore their context and significance.
OrganizersVanessa Harding, Professor of London History at Birkbeck, University of London, has written about death and burial in London and about the sources on which estimates of London’s population are based. Forthcoming work on London plague examines annotated copies of the Bills of Mortality and composite or commemorative plague bills. Kristin Heitman is an independent scholar based in Bethesda, Maryland, whose interests center on metrics and systems of records. Her current work concerns the origins of the Bills of Mortality and the life of John Graunt.

Exploring Entangled Histories: Britain and Europe in the Age of the Thirty Years’ War, c.1590-1650

Spring Conference
On his deathbed, Shakespeare’s John of Gaunt famously declared that the “silver sea” around the “precious stone” of England served “in the office of a wall / Or as a moat defensive to a house.” But the seas that separate the British Isles from the European Continent have long been bridges as well as walls, connective tissue as well as defensive moats. Four hundred years after the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War, and two years after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, this conference inverts Gaunt’s prophetic inspiration to consider the entangled histories of the British Isles and the European Continent from the late sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth century. Paying particular attention to the transnational movement of people, texts, objects, cultural forms, information, and ideas, invited speakers will examine how European entanglements shaped individual and collective experience, and influenced the course of early modern political, social, literary, and artistic history.
OrganizerAlastair Bellany is Professor of History at Rutgers University and author, with Thomas Cogswell, of The Murder of King James I (2015). His research focuses primarily on the political culture of early modern England, in particular the histories of media, popular politics, and the image of the early Stuart court.

A Folger Introduction to Research Methods and Agendas

Late-Spring Intensive Skills Course
The best research is inquiry based and allows for serendipity. A scholar needs to sharpen research questions and search skills simultaneously and with sensitivity to the ways questions and sources affect each other. The available evidence may invite a new thesis, require a revised approach, or even suggest a new field of exploration. This intensive week is not designed to advance participants’ individual research projects. Rather, it aims to cultivate a habit of curiosity into primary sources with exercises that engage participants’ research interests. It is offered to help early-stage graduate students develop a set of research-oriented literacies as they explore the Folger’s rich collections. With the guidance of visiting faculty and Folger staff, up to two dozen participants will examine bibliographical tools and their logics, hone their early modern book description skills, and improve their understanding of the cultural and technological histories of texts. Participants will ask reflexive questions about the nature of primary sources, the collections that house them, and the tools whereby one can access them.

English Paleography

Mellon Summer Institute in Vernacular Paleography
Supported by a major grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, this four-week course will provide an intensive introduction to reading and transcribing secretary and italic handwriting in the Tudor-Stuart period. Fifteen participants will also experiment with contemporary writing materials, learn the terminology and conventions for describing and editing early modern manuscripts, and, as time allows, discuss the important and evolving role of handwritten documents within a wider context of print, manuscript, and oral cultures. The institute emphasizes the skills needed for the accurate reading and transcription of texts, but attention may also be given to the instruments of research, codicology, analytical bibliography, and textual editing. Examples will be drawn from the manuscript collections of the Folger Shakespeare Library, and transcriptions will become part of the Early Modern Manuscripts Online (EMMO) corpus.
DirectorHeather Wolfe is Curator of Manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library. She has written various essays on early modern manuscript culture, and has most recently edited The Literary Career and Legacy of Elizabeth Cary, 1613–1680 (2007) and The Trevelyon Miscellany of 1608: A Facsimile Edition of Folger Shakespeare Library MS V.b.232 (2007).