John Selden, 1584-1654: Scholarship in Context

© National Portrait Gallery

24th-26th June, 2010

Magdalen College, Oxford

Oxford Centre for Early Modern Studies

Bodleian Centre for the Study of the Book

Keynote speakers: G.J. Toomer, Mordechai Feingold, Peter Miller, Jason Rosenblatt, Richard Tuck

Registration is now open for the first major international conference on John Selden (1584-1654), to celebrate the 400th anniversary of his first publications: early booking is recommended for an event with a remarkable international and interdisciplinary range.

John Selden, ‘the monarch in letters’ (Jonson) and England’s ‘chief of learned men’ (Milton) was Britain’s leading scholar, antiquary and jurist.  He was a key figure in the advance of Oriental learning in the West: his achievements in Hebraic studies were unparalleled, and he promoted the study of Arabic and Islamic culture.  He was a renowned theorist of international law (with his Mare Clausum) and of natural law (with his De Iure Naturali & Gentium). He was also a leading Member of Parliament, especially during the Civil War, and an active member of the Westminster Assembly. His work provoked praise and polemic from scholars, theologians and philosophers. His correspondence ranged throughout the European Republic of Letters and reached to Aleppo in Syria. He was the greatest scholarly book collector in England; more than 8000 volumes of his library were deposited in the Bodleian, where he gave his name to the ‘Selden End’ of Duke Humfrey’s library. This conference aims to build on G.J. Toomer’s recent magnum opus, John Selden: A Life in Scholarship (OUP, 2009), to return Selden to the centre of the intellectual culture of his age.

Speakers: Sharon Achinstein, Sir John Baker, Mark Bland, Hans Blom, Elizabethanne Boran, Christopher Brooks, Alan Coates, Theodor Dunkelgrün, Anthony Grafton, Simon Keynes, Vivienne Larminie, Jan Loop, Scott Mandelbrote, Anthony Milton, Sarah Mortimer, Martin Mulsow, Eric Nelson, Paul Nelles, Graham Parry, Annabel Patterson, Jean-Louis Quantin, Julian Roberts, Richard Sharpe, Harvey Shoolman, Colin Tite, Chad van Dixhoorn, Dirk van Miert, Joanna Weinberg

A conference on ‘Historians and the Sacred: Late Medieval to Early Enlightenment”, sponsored by CEMS and the Centre for Early Modern British and Irish History, will be held at Jesus College, Oxford, on Saturday 24 April. Registration by 15 April  is payable in advance (£20, graduate students £10): please email for a registration form.

9.30–11.30 am SESSION I
Nicholas Davidson, ‘Paolo Sarpi and the Use of History’
Irena Backus, ‘Leibniz and Sacred History’
M. Antoni J. Ucerler, ‘Sacred Historiography and its Rhetoric in Early
Modern Japan’
Where did the Christian Church Come From? Tradition and
Innovation in Early Modern Church History
1–2 pm LUNCH
Felicity Heal, ‘Catholic and Protestant Use of History: A Case of English
Diarmaid MacCulloch, ‘Foxes, Firebrands and Forgery: A Source
Pollution in Reformation History’
Peter McCullough, ‘Lancelot Andrewes and Sacred History’
4–4.30 pm TEA
4.30–6.30 pm SESSION III
Ian Maclean, ‘Church History and the Book Trade, 1560–1630’
George Southcombe, ‘The Polemics of Moderation in the Late Seventeenth
Lori Anne Ferrell, ‘The Parker Society and the nineteenth-century Battle for
the History of the Church of England’

In Third Week, the first meeting of the Forum saw a discussion of Robin Valenza’s recent account of the long eighteenth century’s concept of an intellectual ‘discipline’ (Literature, Language and the Rise of the Intellectual Disciplines in Britain, 1680-1820 (Cambridge, 2009)).  Discussion ranged from the role of Renaissance humanism and the secularization of learning leading up to the period covered by Valenza, to the implications of the Enlightenment’s valorization of intellectual specialization alongside public communicability of research for the ongoing controversy over academic ‘impact’ occasioned by the REF.
The following week there was a discussion of Andrew Gurr’s recent book, Shakespeare’s Opposites: The Admiral’s Company 1594-1625 (Cambridge, 2009).  The debate centered on whether early modern plays were the product of the companies they were written for, or solely of the playwright (or playwrights) who wrote them, and the possible uses to which a company-orientated approach might be put by literary critics working well outside the bounds of the traditional theatre history as practised by Gurr himself.

Later in the term, a panel dedicated to Sir Thomas Browne saw Edwina Penge speak about her current doctoral research, offering an interesting exploration of the concept of error and collective interpretation that read Browne’s Pseudodoxia Epidemica alongside the critiques of theatrical audiences written by contemporary dramatists such as Jonson.  Dr. Kathryn Murphy of Jesus College delivered a paper on the responses to Thomas Browne’s Religio Medici (1642) by Sir Kenelm Digby and Alexander Ross, showing the complexity of the part played by Aristotle in vernacular philosophical writing in a period when the Stagirite’s works were under constant attack and yet remained the sine qua non of philosophy.

The term ended with Jeff Miller, a third-year doctoral student, taking his audience through the relationship, sometimes tense, between typological readings of sacred history and historical scholarship before the Restoration, concentrating on the epoch-making work of John Selden in the History of Tithes, and pointing to the effects of Selden and others’ rejections or adoptions of typological approaches to history in the religious debates of the age.

Our thanks to all the speakers, and everybody who attended.  If you would like to present a paper at the Forum or have any other queries, please email or

A second Works in Progress session on current digital research was held on 2 March, with Giles Bergel in the chair. Pip Willcox introduced the Shakespeare Quartos Archive, which was launched on 16 November 2009. The site currently offers digitized images of 32 copies of the first five editions of Hamlet. The accompanying software makes it possible to see at a glance the differences between the texts of different editions, and variants and annotations in different copies. A feature for removing opacity, developed by the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, makes it possible to superimpose one copy on another, in a form of online collation which raises exciting possibilities for the future.

Colin Burrow discussed Scriptorium: Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts Online, which provides digitized images of a selection of early modern manuscripts, together with scholarly essays on the history and contents of each manuscript and a remarkable online course on palaeography. His presentation brought out the heterogeneity of so many manuscripts of the period, ranging from scholarly library catalogues to medical remedies and warnings against laziness.

Miscellaneity was raised by Paddy Bullard in a discussion of some general questions about the future of digital editing, based on his experience of working for the Journal to Stella website, part of the forthcoming Cambridge edition of Swift’s works. Recent textual theory, reacting against author-centred approaches, has been pushing to make archives as comprehensive as possible, but in the process has weakened any overarching structure to facilitate navigation. In looking at ways of reconciling these approaches, Dr Bullard proposed the genre of the printed miscellany as a useful model for electronic editions. The ensuing discussion touched on the larger issues of structure and purpose as well as the practicalities of funding and technique and ways of measuring ‘impact’ (basic point: please use the feedback buttons provided!).  And in the dash to digitization, are libraries forgetting where they have put their microfilms?

After the 1629 portrait of Arthur Johnston by George Jamesone in King's College Aberdeen, with the motto 'NOSCE TE IPSVM'

On 2 March, Alexander Farquhar gave a presentation on the seventeenth-century Scottish poet Arthur Johnston (c. 1579-1641), widely acknowledged as the greatest Scottish neo-Latin poet after Buchanan and also notable as the editor of Deliciæ Poetarum Scotorum hujus Ævi (Amsterdam, 1637), which brought Scots poets into a series of publications of different nations’ neo-Latin verse. (No comparable volume for England was published.) Farquhar brought out the international character of his career and writing, as a poet who vindicated his compatriot George Buchanan to a European audience and joined the Scots diaspora on the Continent before becoming Rector of King’s College, Aberdeen. Johnston died in Oxford and one of his daughters married George Dalgarno, whose work on a system of shorthand while he taught in Oxford in the 1650s brought him in touch with the  natural philosophers who were to play a leading role in forming the Royal Society.

Today’s Professor of Humanity at Aberdeen, Jane Stevenson, is the author of Women Latin Poets: Language, Gender, and Authority from Antiquity to the Eighteenth Century (2005). She continued the Scottish theme on 2 March with a paper to the Early Modern Literature Graduate Seminar on ‘Latin and Literature in Seventeenth-Century Britain’ in which she highlighted the particular emphasis on Latinity in early modern Scottish culture, as manifested not only in the large body of poetry but also in the number of Scottish translations from European vernaculars into Latin.

On 10 March James Hankins (Harvard University) spoke on the I Tatti Renaissance Library, of which he is a founder and General Editor, and which has done so much to make authoritative texts of neo-Latin writings widely available. The series has been successful in financial as well as scholarly terms, thanks in part to volumes like Boccaccio’s

Famous Women. Professor Hankins made clear the challenge of establishing editorial consistency and rigour across such diverse texts, which have often received little scholarly attention – as in the case of Aurelio Lippo Brandolini’s Republics and Kingdoms Compared, a forceful critique of Florentine civic humanism of which his own edition gives the first translation into any language.

The Hilary Term seminar had a strongly interdisciplinary emphasis. Jennifer Richards (University of Newcastle) introduced her current research on ‘Physic and Rhetoric: Reading the Medical Regimens’. Professor Richards explored a range of manuscript and printed materials which have been quarried by historians of medicine but offer different rewards from a literary perspective.

In ‘The End of the Monarchical Republic? Robert Parsons and William Shakespeare think about politics and history’, the historian Peter Lake (Vanderbilt University) read Richard II against the political polemics surrounding the Elizabeth succession.

Kathy Eden (Columbia University) brought in a comparative perspective, in a paper on Montaigne which formed part of a larger exploration of  the role of classical rhetoric and hermeneutics in ‘The Renaissance Rediscovery of Intimacy’.

Exploring ‘Latin and Literature in Seventeenth-Century Britain’, Jane Stevenson (University of Aberdeen) showed how the apparently universal medium of neo-Latin poetry failed to bridge significant cultural gaps between seventeenth-century England and Scotland – though she ended with a suggestive counter-example involving Milton’s ‘Lycidas’.