Early Modern Graduate Forum, Hilary Term 2010

March 21, 2010

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 nick.hardy@univ.ox.ac.uk or jenny.sager@univ.ox.ac.uk.

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