Women Intellectuals and Political Ideology in Seventeenth-Century England (seminar)

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This was a spring 2001 semester seminar.

This seminar sought to build bridges between the recent recovery of women writers, mostly oriented toward questions of a common gender identity, and traditional political and intellectual history, which continues to relegate women to a minor place. The seminar asked how some of those traditional narratives can best be rewritten in the light of new knowledge about women intellectuals. At the same time it explored ways in which unitary narratives of a female intellectual tradition can be complicated by an understanding of ideological polarizations and by fuller awareness of the international dimension of women's participation in the republic of letters. It offered a new perspective on the heavily ideological debates over these topics by setting such canonical figures as Milton and Hobbes in dialogue with women who engaged in the arguments: figures like Lucy Hutchinson and Margaret Cavendish, both of whom wrote Lucretian poetry showing the influence of the "new science" yet whose political and religious views and theories of imagination were radically opposed. It asked how far current assumptions about the tendency of women writers to favor the royalist cause can be borne out, and re-examined current models of the role of gender in the emergence of the public sphere. With its central focus on the half-century of political and intellectual revolution from the 1630s through to the Exclusion Crisis, the seminar explored-with allowance made for participants' research interests-such discourses as political theory, historiography, natural science, heroic poetry and literary theory, autobiography, educational theory, classical scholarship and translation, theology and Biblical criticism, and the visual arts.

Director: David Norbrook is Professor of English at the University of Maryland. He is the author of Writing the English Republic: Poetry, Rhetoric, and Politics 1627–1660 (1999); with Henry Woudhuysen, The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse (1992); and Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance (1984). He is currently writing a biography of Lucy Hutchinson and editing her Genesis epic Order and Disorder.