Professor Anthony Grafton delivered an enthralling plenary lecture to a memorable conference on ‘Historians and the Sacred: Late Medieval to Early Enlightenment’, organized by Felicity Heal and Paulina Kewes for the Centre for Early Modern Studies and the Centre for Early Modern British and Irish History (Jesus College, 19 June). Ecclesiastical history, he argued, was a distinctively innovative genre, bringing in new techniques of documentary research and also opening up the study of comparative religion, with deepening research into Hebrew studies and later into the religions of East Asia. The other papers were appropriately wide-ranging. Felicity Heal and George Southcombe discussed the languages of religious polemic in England, Diarmaid MacCulloch exposed a much-used source for ecclesiastical historians as a forgery, and Lori Anne Ferrell examined the role of the Parker Society editions in forming views of the English past. Peter McCullough demonstrated the breadth of Lancelot Andrewes’ scholarship including his Hebrew learning which, he concluded, prepared the way for Selden’s. Ian Maclean discussed the  role of church history in the European book trade. Nicholas Davidson explored reasons for the absence of ‘the sacred’ in Paolo Sarpi’s church history, while Irena Backus opened up the neglected area of Leibniz’s extensive writings on church history (her paper is available here). Discussing Alessandro Valignano, a leader of the Jesuit mission in Japan, M.Antoni J.Ucerler was struck by common concerns on the writing of church history with many of the other writers discussed in the conference. Such connections were a striking feature of a lively and productive conference. Originally planned to inaugurate Professor Grafton’s visit this term, in which he has been so generous in creating dialogue with Oxford scholars and graduate students, the postponed conference now formed a prelude to the swiftly-ensuing conferences on John Selden and on ‘Reading Hebrew and Jewish Texts in Early Modern Europe’.


John Selden, 24-26 June

June 10, 2010

There are still some places remaining for John Selden (1584-1654):

Scholarship in Context, 24th-26th June, 2010, Magdalen College, Oxford.

For details see

“‘My wit was always working’: John Aubrey and the Development of Experimental Science” takes place in the Exhibition Room at the Bodleian Library between 28 May and 31 Oct, 2010.

See a slideshow of the exhibition here.

Aubrey Day

Saturday 19 June, 2pm – 6pm
Convocation House, Bodleian Library

Five short talks beginning every half-hour will introduce John Aubrey’s enthusiasm for Britain’s past, his collecting of books and gossip, and his experiments with language and science.

  • 2.00 – 2.20 pm Will Poole (New College) – John Aubrey and the Advancement of Learning
  • 2.30 – 2.50 pm Kate Bennett (New College) – ‘My prettie collections’: Brief Lives and the Ashmolean Museum
  • 3.00 – 3.20 pm Kelsey Jackson-Williams (Balliol College)- Monumenta Britannica: John Aubrey’s archaeologies of the prehistoric past
  • 3.30 – 3.50 pm Rhodri Lewis (St Hugh’s College) – The Aubrey Circle and the Search for the Perfect Language
  • 4.00 – 5.00 pm Michael Hunter (Birkbeck College, University of London) – John Aubrey and his Age
  • 5.00 – 6.00 pm Reception and late opening of the Exhibition Room for Aubrey Day visitors only.

Drop in any time, or stay for the whole afternoon. This event is free. To register: e-mail For further details of this event, visit the exhibition website.

Aubrey Lunchtime Talks

Every Friday in July and August, 1-2 pm
Convocation House, Bodleian Library

‘Wit Works’ – a series of lunchtime talks given by Jeffrey Miller (Magdalen College) and Thomas Roebuck (Magdalen College). Followed by an escorted visit to the exhibition.

Admission free. No need to register in advance.

Historians and the Sacred: Late Medieval to Early Enlightenment

Conference sponsored by the Oxford Centre for Early Modern Studies and the

Centre for Early Modern British and Irish History

Jesus College, Oxford, Saturday 19 June 2010


9.45–11.45 am SESSION I

Nicholas Davidson, ‘Paolo Sarpi and the Use of History’

Irena Backus, ‘Leibniz and Sacred History’

Ian Maclean, ‘Church History and the Book trade, 1560-1630’

12:15 pm– 1:15 pm


Where did the Christian Church Come From? Tradition and Innovation in

Early Modern Church History

1:15–2:15 pm LUNCH

2:15–4:15 pm SESSION II

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’

4:15–4.30 pm TEA

4.30–6.30 pm SESSION III

M.Antoni J.Ucerler, ‘Sacred Historiography and its Rhetoric in early

Modern Japan’

George Southcombe, ‘The Polemics of Moderation in the Late Seventeenth Century’

Lori Anne Ferrell, ‘The Parker Society and the nineteenth-century Battle

for the History of the Church of England’

Gavin Alexander (University of Cambridge) introduced William Scott’s ‘The Model of Poesy’, an exciting recent discovery not just for its references to Shakespeare but as a systematic treatise developing Sidney’s arguments and bringing them to bear on a range of contemporary writers. His forthcoming edition is keenly awaited.

Peter McCullough’s ‘Text and Context: John Donne’s Sermon for the Funerals of Sir William Cokayne’ exemplified some of the priorities of the new Oxford Edition of the Sermons of John Donne, of which he is General Editor.  Using the exceptionally well-documented events of the former lord mayor’s life and death – including Middleton’s pageants and entertainments , the Cokayne family papers (Northamptonshire Record Office) and the survival in the British Library of the herald’s processional for the funeral (naming all those present at the sermon) – McCullough’s paper reconstructed in great detail both the occasion, place, and auditory for which Donne wrote.  Long recognised as one of Donne’s literary best, the additional contextual evidence when combined with a rigorously close formal analysis of the text, revealed the sermon as an even more sophisticated masterpiece of occasional rhetoric.  The full version of the essay will appear in The Oxford Handbook of the Early Modern Sermon (ed. McCullough, Adlington and Rhatigan, OUP 2011).

Is there a Shakespeare play waiting for readmission to the canon? The question has been revived in the media by the Arden Shakespeare edition of The Double Falsehood, the play Lewis Theobald published as adapted fron Shakespeare in 1728, and believed by some to be derived from Shakespeare’s lost Cardenio. In a stimulating session, Tiffany Stern, who will be contributing to a forthcoming book on the Cardenio question, pointed out that while scholars have been quick to look for analogues between The Double Falsehood and Shakespeare’s works, they have been markedly less willing to investigate parallels between the plays and other writings by Theobald – which, as she showed, throws the case for Shakespearean residue in the play into a new light. Bernard Richards discussed The Double Falsehood in the light of his own experience of adapting the play for performance. While both speakers agreed that the questions surrounding the play do not admit of a definitive answer, the controversy has raised fascinating issues. The Double Falsehood has challenged many critics, including Richards, Stephen Greenblatt and Gary Taylor, into dramatic composition, at times into emulation of Shakespeare’s style; if they could do it, why not Theobalds? but then, how unique is the Bard?