2016-2017 Material Witness sessions

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Below are the descriptions for the Material Witness sessions that took place during the 2016–2017 academic year. These include the fellow who curated the session as well as the list of items that were displayed.

January 25, 2017 - "Left Behind"

Curated by long-term fellow, Debapriya Sarkar (Hendrix College), this meeting of Material Witness will focus on early modern things, ideas, and texts that have been excised, abandoned, eliminated, and otherwise left behind – mostly within the early modern period itself, but with a glance at the ways that scholars, archivists, and curators have edited the early modern archive. Together we will examine manuscripts and print texts which will help us to think about the ways that women and men from this period winnowed through their possessions and intellectual productions: we’ll examine manuscript commonplace and recipe books (focusing on items that have many deletions and cross-outs), household inventories (which help to show how objects in the home were discarded and/or preserved), and wills (perhaps the definitive record of items an individual could choose to “leave behind” to others).

Materials Displayed:

February 9, 2017 - "500 Years of Treasures from Oxford" (Special Session)

Our next Folger Material Witness session will be led by Peter Kidd, curator of the current "500 Years of Treasures from Oxford" exhibition which goes on display on Feb. 4th at the Folger. Offering a “sneak peek” at the materials that will part of this exhibit, this meeting will focus on tracing the provenance of pre-1600 books and manuscripts. The discussion will focus less on the very obvious marks of provenance, such as bookplates and ownership inscriptions, and more about the usually-overlooked things, such as pencil annotations made by modern book dealers, which can sometimes be used to reveal a lot about a book's earlier history. As a medievalist and cataloguer, Kidd will also address problems and confusions sometimes created by the very different meanings of common terminology used by manuscript and printed book scholars, e.g. "signature," "folio," and "collation." Taken together, these revelations may help scholars and collectors alike to uncover new histories of medieval and Renaissance texts.

Materials Displayed:

February 25, 2017 - "Blank Space"

“I warrant he hath a thousand of these letters, writ with blank space for different names” (Merry Wives of Windsor, 2.1.71)

Peter Stallybrass has written that “the history of printing is crucially a history of the ‘blank’” (“‘Little Jobs’: Broadsides and the Printing Revolution”). Curated by long-term fellow, Derek Dunne (University of Fribourg), this session will investigate what is at stake when early modern documents are designed for incompletion. Considering the growing bureaucracies of the time, what can we learn about authority from the way certain forms are authored in stages? Filling in the blanks is more complex than it might appear, and I want us to dwell on how empty spaces can carry meaning in a range of documents, including licences, indentures, bills of mortality and literary examples.

Materials Displayed:

March 15, 2017 - “Renaissance Vergils”

When Shakespeare writes that Lucrece cannot “read the subtle-shining secrecies / Writ in the glassy margents of such books,” he has in mind a text with commentary—most likely, a classical text. Curated by our long-term, Folger-ACLS fellow, Joseph Ortiz (University of Texas at El Paso), this session of Material Witness touches on the myriad ways that classical texts circulated in the Renaissance, with a particular focus on Vergil. There are the usual suspects (lavish folios with copious glosses, or “margents”), but there are also less ennobling forms of transmission by which Vergil was translated, adapted, excerpted, arranged, and cut up (sometimes literally).

Materials Displayed:

April 26, 2017 - “Let the Good Times Roll: Continental Festival Books”

Curated by long-term fellow, Jessica Goethals (Italian, University of Alabama), this session of Material Witness will explore the visual and textual rhetoric of continental festival books. Considering the collaborative relationship between authors, artists, printers, and patrons, we will evaluate how these illustrated printed books fused human and equestrian choreography, technology, music and meter, architecture, and materiality in order to both experience and memorialize the secular and religious spectacles of early modernity.

Materials Displayed: