NEH Summer Institute: Experience and Experiment in Early Modern Europe (seminar)
Directed by Claire Sponsler, Professor of English at the University of Iowa
June 21 through July 23, 2010
This NEH Summer Institute for College and University Faculty offered a comparative study of ritual and ceremony across related European cultures from 1300 to 1700. It built on anthropological theories of the ubiquitous role of ritual and ceremony and the impact of that work in performance studies. Testing assumptions about influence and exchange among national traditions and local contexts, it sought a new understanding of the processes and effects of cultural hybridity and assimilation.
Beginning with an exploration of the theories and definitions of “ritual,” each subsequent session advanced topically, chronologically, and geographically while touching on the implications of ceremony and ritual in religious, domestic, and secular contexts. Throughout the institute, participants used the Folger’s collections. They first read about ceremonies and liturgical performance through medieval authors including Hildegard of Bingen and Chaucer. Rituals surrounding motherhood and birthing practices, specifically the childbed, were also examined as sites of domestic ritualistic performance. Moving into the civic sphere, the session topics included records of Lord Mayor shows, pageant plays, royal entries, and other public ceremonies. The institute concluded with representations of ceremony on the early modern stage through histories and tragedies, discussions of the materials of ritual, and sites of pilgrimage.
Materials and Products
The syllabus is available here.
While the website is no longer supported, it has been archived: Institute Website: Ritual and Ceremony
A PDF of the website's pages with the participants' interpretive essays.
A PDF of the original promotional flyer.
(All affiliations are as of the program's date)
Bernadette Andrea, Professor of English, University of Texas, San Antonio
Christopher J. Bilodeau, Assistant Professor of History, Dickinson College
Rachel L. Burk, Visiting Assistant Professor of Spanish and Portuguese, Tulane University
Peter Craft, PhD Candidate in English, University of Illinois,Urbana-Champaign
J. Caitlin Finlayson, Assistant Professor of English, University of Michigan, Dearborn
Elina Gertsman, Assistant Professor of Medieval Art, Case Western Reserve University
Marcia B. Hall, Professor of Art History, Temple University
Matthew C. Hansen, Assistant Professor of English, Boise State University
Kenneth L. Hodges, Associate Professor of English, University of Oklahoma
John M. Hunt, Term Assistant Professor of History, University of Louisville
Matthew W. Irvin, Assistant Professor of English, Sewanee The University of the South
Nancy J. Kay, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Art History, Merrimack College
Andrew D. McCarthy, Assistant Professor of English, University of Tennessee, Chattanooga
Cynthia Nazarian, Assistant Professor of French and Italian, Northwestern University
Patrick O’Banion, Assistant Professor of History, Lindenwood University
Stephanie M. Seery-Murphy, Lecturer in History, California State University, Sacramento
Christopher Swift, PhD Candidate in Theatre Studies, City University of New York, Graduate Center
Lisa Voigt, Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese, The Ohio State University
Anne E. Wohlcke, Assistant Professor of History, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Suzanne M. Yeager, Assistant Professor of English and Medieval Studies, Fordham University
(All affiliations are as of the program's date)
Ian Archer, Keble College, Oxford
Lawrence M. Bryant, California State University, Chico
Barbara Fuchs, UCLA
Gail McMurray Gibson, Davidson College
Bruce Holsinger, University of Virginia
Roslyn L. Knutson, University of Arkansas, Little Rock
Joseph Roach, Yale University
Helen Watanabe-O'Kelly, Exeter College, Oxford
Michael Wintroub, University of California Berkeley
Barbara Wisch, SUNY Cortland
Claire Sponsler, Advisory Editor
Kathleen Lynch, Editor
Owen Williams, Associate Editor
Adrienne Shevchuk, Production and Managing Editor
Allison Isberg, Editorial Assistant
Swim Design, Design and Development
Julie Ainsworth, Folger Shakespeare Library Photographer
Folger Institute Staff
David Schalkwyk, Chair
Kathleen Lynch, Executive Director
Owen Williams, Assistant Director
Adrienne Shevchuk, Program Assistant
Matthew Carr, Intern
Hosted by the Folger Shakespeare Library. For more information about current summer seminars, please visit the National Endowment for the Humanities website.
June 25 through August 3, 2001
Directed by Pamela O. Long, senior research fellow at the Dibner institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Pamela H. Smith, Associate Professor in the Department of History at Pomona College, Claremont and Director of European Studies at Claremont Graduate University
The institute opened up a wide-ranging investigation of the different understandings and contexts of experience in the early modern period. Changing views of experience affected many areas, including the conceptualization of human psychology and the human soul; artisanal knowledge; alchemical and neo-Platonic approaches to the material world; views of the body both as a subject of anatomy and as a source of agency; the nature and role of the five senses; techniques of visual representation; and new experimental methodologies. The institute gathered a distinguished visiting faculty and sixteen college teachers from across the country-each with their own expertises and perspectives-to examine a number of practices in these areas, including painting, architecture, cartography, alchemy, medicine, mechanics, and literature. It investigated the increasing significance that technical knowledge came to have in social and economic configurations such as court culture, urban culture, and the marketplace. It paid particular attention to the habits of mind-the "material understanding"-of the craftsperson out of which was shaped a new empirical "method of philosophizing" and a new way of viewing nature.
Directors: Pamela O. Long is an independent scholar who in 2000-2001 was a senior fellow at the Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology at MIT. Her recent publications include Technology, Culture, and Society in Late Medieval and Renaissance Europe, 1300-1600 (Washington: American Historical Association, 2001) and Openness, Secrecy, Authorship: Technical Arts and the Culture of Knowledge from Antiquity to the Renaissance (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), which won the Morris D. Forkosch Prize, awarded by the Journal of the History of Ideas for the best book in intellectual history published in 2001.
Pamela H. Smith is the Seth Low Professor of History at Columbia University and the author of books on alchemy, artisans, and the making of knowledge. Recent ones include The Body of the Artisan: Art and Experience in the Scientific Revolution (2004) and Ways of Making and Knowing: The Material Culture of Empirical Knowledge (with Amy R. W. Meyers and Harold C. Cook, 2014). Her present research reconstructs the vernacular knowledge of early modern European miners and metalworkers.
Experience and Experiment in Early Modern Europe
Some of the most basic assumptions about the nature of the world and our means of experiencing it changed fundamentally in the early modem period. This institute's study is shaped by the most crucial result: a transformation of natural philosophy grounded in Aristotelian common experience--or experience everyone would agree upon without need for investigation into an experimental philosophy based on a central role for instrumentation and specialized material techniques used in the validation of knowledge claims.
But because experience remains such a touchstone of knowledge in our modem world, we readily believe that it is a stable and transhistorical-indeed a universal-phenomena: an empathetic way back into the mindsets of the past. This institute seeks first to trouble those easy assumptions about the nature of experience and then to open up a wide ranging and carefully nuanced investigation of different strands and shifting understandings of experience in the early modem period. These understandings include a new orientation towards experimentalism in the seventeenth century. The institute will gather historians of science, cultural historians, art historians, philosophers, anthropologists, sociologists, literary critics, and historians of technology for this work. It will draw upon and consolidate some of the exciting research that is currently being done in each of these disciplines (by our contributors among others). With cross-, inter-, and counter-disciplinary conversations, it will undertake a comparative investigation of key issues and texts that inform our understandings of the transformations of experience and the uses of experimentation in diverse fields. It will analyze at what points and in what ways experiment comes to function as proof in a wide variety of local circumstances. As a result, it will help reshape a common body of knowledge about the radical change in the nature of experience in the early modern period, a change that traditionally has been signaled by the term"scientific revolution."
Proposed Schedule and Faculty
The principal focus of the institute's meetings will be on selected primary texts of the period, read in such a way as to highlight the multiple conversations and contexts into which they were written. Participants will be encouraged to raise issues of audience, transmission, translation, and the nature of evidence-the foundations of the symbolic actions texts perform in their social settings. Participants will be further encouraged to explore the collections in the mornings and to make those explorations the bases of their own presentations to the group.
The institute will meet Monday through Thursday afternoons (with the exception of the week of 4 July). The average week will feature discussion with directors, faculty, and participants taking the lead at various times. Participants will also work collaboratively to incorporate new technologies into their own teaching. On a weekly basis, they will explore a range of digital resources, discussing how to structure assignments and how to provide students with strategies to make the best use of such resources. They will compile and evaluate a cumulative list of web sites that offer texts and images of primary sources. They will also collectively assemble and annotate a set of images of primary sources that they have consulted at the Folger Library. Together with the institute's syllabus and bibliographies, these will be the components of a multifaceted web posting.
Week I (25-29 June)
The Textures of Experience
Visiting Faculty: John Sutton (Lecturer of Philosophy, Macquarie University, NSW, Australia)
Week 2 (2-6 July)
Visiting Faculty: Mary Fissell, Associate Professor of the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology at the Johns Hopkins University, and Gail Kern Paster, Professor of English at George Washington University
Week 3 (9-13 July)
Mechanical Arts, Natural Philosophy, and Visual Representation
Visiting Faculty: David Summers, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of the History of Art at the University of Virginia
Week 4 (16-20 July)
Visiting Faculty: Chandra Mukerji (Professor of Communications, Sociology, and Science Studies at the University of Califomia, San Diego) and Jim Bennett (Keeper of the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford)
Week 5 (23-27 July)
Objects of Art/Objects of Nature
Visiting Faculty: Paula Findlen (Director of the Science, Technology and Society Program, and Professor of History at Stanford University)
Week 6 (30 July-3 August)
Experience and Experiment in the Scientific Revolution
Visiting Faculty: Peter Dear (Professor of History and of Science & Technology Studies at Cornell University) and Adrian Johns (Professor of Sociology at the California institute of Technology)