Lucy Hutchinson is well known to seventeenth-century historians and literary scholars as the author of Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson, a classic biography which sets the momentous life of her husband, a committed Puritan, republican and regicide, against the wider backdrop of the English Civil War and Restoration. This work, and a compelling though fragmentary autobiography, have been more or less continually in print since their publication from manuscript in 1806. Only recently, however, has the scale and range of her interests been recognized. Like her contemporary – and political rival – Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, Hutchinson aspired to the new European model of the woman intellectual, and translated Lucretius’ De rerum natura, the most passionate atheistic text of antiquity. From a radically different perspective, she later composed Order and Disorder, a major Biblical poem on a parallel subject to Milton’s Paradise Lost. Underpinning her later works was an exceptional engagement with contemporary Latin and English theological writings. Many fundamental questions about her life and writings have yet to be addressed, and this will be the first ever conference to discuss them. It will bring together many scholars who are working on a new edition of her collected works ( and others with an interest in seventeenth-century literature, politics and women’s writing. Speakers will include Penelope Anderson, Martyn Bennett, Mark Burden, Elizabeth Clarke, Alice Eardley, Jonathan Gibson, Crawford Gribben, Erica Longfellow, David Norbrook, Elizabeth Scott-Baumann, and Blair Worden.

Registration by 21st November here.  Inquiries to


Dido in Oxford

June 24, 2013

edoxEarly Drama at Oxford (EDOX)  is beginning a systematic study of plays written and/or performed in the Oxford colleges between 1480 and 1650. Exciting events for this year are headed by a unique opportunity to view stagings of two Elizabethan Dido plays, William Gager’s Dido (1583) and Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage (21 September), and two related conferences, ‘Theatrum Mundi: Latin Drama in Renaissance Europe’ (13-14 September) and ‘Performing Dido: Theatre performances and conference at Christ Church’ (22 September). For further details, see the new EDOX website.

solid-cropWhat kind of knowledge does poetry give us? The fifth annual CEMS conference brought together an international array of scholars, and close to a hundred delegates, to explore and assess early modern responses to this question. In his introductory remarks, David Norbrook identified two potentially contradictory impulses behind the conference: to set early modern literary study within a broader intellectual world, and also to recognize the particularity of poetics and of the literary, at a time when they seem in danger of being subordinated to a very generalized history of cultures and mentalities, and beyond that to be eclipsed in the demand for education to have a direct economic impact. Luc Deitz gave a fresh perspective on Julius Caesar Scaliger’s Poetices libri septem as a pivotal work in developing the concept of polymathy. Colin Burrow explored the paradoxes of gaining an individual voice through imitating the inimitable Cicero, showing how imitation involved forma as well as discursive content. Perrine Galant offered a striking case study of such imitation in  Michel de L’Hospital’s engagement with his public role through Neo-Latin verse. Jan Loop discussed the ways in which European scholars tried to assimilate Arabic poetics to Hebrew models before they developed a stronger sense of its cultural specificity. The limits of early modern syncretism emerged in other papers. Nigel Smith presented the work of the German poet Quirinus Kuhlmann, who rejected literary imitation in a turn to prophetic inspiration, and in the combinatory sonnets of his Himmlische Liebes-Küsse invented a form of word-sculpture. In his keynote lecture Ralph Häfner discussed the role of myth and poetry in the exploratory writings of a differently heterodox figure, Johann Albert Fabricius. Kristine Haugen showed with what zest another controversial figure, Isaac Vossius, dismantled traditional accounts of Greek prosody. In a lively round table led by Terence Cave, Gavin Alexander, Micha Lazarus and Martin McLaughlin reviewed the the themes of the day, which had indeed highlighted early modern polymathy but also in different and unexpected ways revealed the irreducible role of formal stuctures, and suggested ways of moving beyond the dichotomies of the utile and the dulce.

TImagehe CEMS workshop on ‘Describing, Analysing and Identifying Early Modern Handwriting: Methods and Issues’ (25 April) may have had an arcane title but it drew over 70 attendees. This showed how far the study of early modern manuscripts has burgeoned since the pioneering work of Peter Beal and others. Many issues remain to be resolved, however. Methods of describing, distinguishing and identifying hands differ from scholar to scholar and, although the work of individual early modernists is often based on very substantial unarticulated ‘tacit knowledge’ about the dating and differentiation of script styles, little detailed work on the topic has been published. The workshop aimed to advance the process.

A panel on ‘Problems’, chaired by Colin Burrow, offered some case studies from a team who are working on a new editions of the letters of Queen Elizabeth.  Jonathan Gibson showed how he had been able to identify the handwriting manual on which Elizabeth drew for her formal signature: a case here of the complex mediations between print and script. Carlo Bajetta and Guillaume Coatalen discussed the difficulties of identifying the scribal hands behind the queen’s Italian and French correspondence: Bajetta suggested that for such identification, the overall mise en page, and small details that were not in the form of letters, might be more useful than the scrutiny of particular letters. A second panel, ‘ Solutions’, chaired by Daniel Wakelin, outlined some divergent strategies. Tom Davis explained how he had put his own palaeographical training to practical use in advising on  many cases of forgery, including the celebrated case of the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad. In court, what is being asked for is evidence that receives immediate assent without needing specialized interpretation, and this is done by assembling large bodies of evidence and presenting parallels visually. His website offers templates for comparing letter images which can be downloaded. Simon Horobin discussed the Late Medieval English Scribes project which uses a similar technique for the identification of scribal handwriting. Steven W. May showed how the close study of legal documents could help in the understanding of literary authorship. Julia Craig-McFeely, drawing on her work for the Digital Archive of Medieval Music, argued that the existing techniques suffered from the difficulty of considering individual letters independently of their processing the large quantity of information needed for secure identification of hands. She  suggested that new technologies of digital imaging, developed by Ichiro Fujinaga and others, could both enhance the analysis of the larger mise en page and permit a more nuanced comparison of individual letters in their larger contexts. In a lively round table session, Gabriel Heaton, Peter Beal, William Poole, Heather Wolfe and Henry Woudhuysen expressed a range of views about the practicalities of different approaches to attribution, and proposed different perspectives from the practicalities of identifying a previously unknown manuscript for sale to the need to link narratives of English palaeographical history with the narratives established in the study of diplomatic. Finally, Giles Bergel chaired a session in which several project ideas were canvassed, and in one case executed (an online, shared bibliography for Early Modern Handwriting studies is now in progress at, and contributions are welcome). It was also suggested that a wiki-based dictionary of terms might be initiated. Giles Bergel proposed a large-scale project to compare engraved pedagogical exempla with their scribal copies, building on research in which Jonathan Gibson and several other participants were engaged. Similarly, Tim Underhill suggested that a new version of Ambrose Heal’s dictionary of English Writing-Masters would be useful.

All participants felt there was a need for many more online images of manuscripts, either through a single portal such as Cambridge’s Scriptorium or as separate resources. More online collections of images of manuscripts would greatly assist in the application of digital image-processing technologies, the potential of which was demonstrated through the example of Bodleian Ballads Online’s woodcut-recognition engine. Image-recognition, as previously discussed by Julia Craig-McFeely, could help in e.g. classifying hands; identifying scribes; recognising distinctive words, glyphs, strokes or other scribal features. Regardless of the outcomes, it was argued that research questions needed to be raised early in the project planning phase, even for simple archives of images. Overall, there were many ideas canvassed and a sense that much could be done with both established and new techniques, particularly in combination.

solid-cropCEMS conference: Poetics and Knowledge in Early Modern Europe

T. S. Eliot Theatre, Merton College.

Thursday 23 May, 10-6pm.

In the early modern period, poetry was central to every aspect of learned culture: it was the object of study of lawyers, medics, scientists, and theologians, not just literary critics. How did those disciplines understand poetry? To what kinds of unique knowledge did they believe poetry could grant access? And what role can poetry play for specialists in the history of those fields today? This conference should appeal to graduate students and scholars working across the disciplines of early modern studies, who are keen to contribute to a vital debate about the ways in which poetry can be studied within an interdisciplinary context.

Our conference will bring together an international group of leading literary critics, scholars of modern languages, orientalists, and historians to explore these questions in many different languages and social and national contexts, drawing on a huge range of published and unpublished sources. The conference and its themes will be introduced by David Norbrook, Merton Professor of English Literature and director of Oxford’s Centre for Early Modern Studies. Speakers will include: Colin Burrow (All Souls College, Oxford) on imitation; Luc Deitz (National Library of Luxembourg), editor of the Poetics of Julius-Caesar Scaliger, will speak on the place of poetics within learned disciplines; Perrine Galand-Hallyn (École Normale Supérieure), co-editor of the most comprehensive account of European poetics, Poétiques de la Renaissance (Droz, 2001), on the connections between poetry and the law; Ralph Häfner (University of Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg), author of Götter im Exil (2003), on the ways Johann Albert Fabricius used poetry to reconstruct the early history of the universe; Kristine Haugen (California Institute of Technology), author of Richard Bentley: Poetry and Enlightenment (2011) on seventeenth-century poetry and music; and Jan Loop (Warburg Institute/University of Kent), leading expert on Europe’s encounters with the Arabic world and director of the Centre for the History of Arabic Studies, on the rise of aesthetic appreciation of Arabic poetry in Europe; Nigel Smith (Princeton University) on his new comparative study of the relationship between the rise of vernacular literature and state formation in early modern Europe. Terence Cave (St John’s College, Oxford) will draw together the themes of the day by chairing a round-table discussion. The whole day will allow generous amounts of time for detailed questions and debate for each paper.

Organized by the Centre for Early Modern Studies and Merton College History of the Book Group. With thanks for the generous support of the OUP John Fell Oxford University Research Fund and Oxford’s English Faculty.

Full: £35 / Grad: £20

Registration (by 16 May)  here.  For more details contact:

handwritingimageMethods of describing, distinguishing and identifying hands differ from scholar to scholar and, although the work of individual early modernists is often based on very substantial unarticulated ‘tacit knowledge’ about the dating and differentiation of script styles, little detailed work on the topic has been published. Most of the scholarship in the area focuses, in an ad hoc way, on high-status manuscripts and on the identification of hands associated with major figures.  This one-day workshop will explore the potential for future collaboration on more comprehensive and systematic ways of understanding the variation between different hands in the period, and specifically the possibilities for a new project  which will aim to produce substantial publicly-available material mapping key elements in the development of English handwriting between 1500 and 1700. Speakers and chairs: Carlo M. Bajetta (Aosta), Peter Beal (Institute of English Studies, London), Giles Bergel (Oxford), Colin Burrow (Oxford) Guillaume Coatalen (Cergy-Pontoise), Julia Craig-McFeely (Oxford), Tom Davis (Birmingham), Jonathan Gibson (Open University), Gabriel Heaton (Sotheby’s), Simon Horobin (Oxford), Steven W. May (Sheffield), William Poole (Oxford), Daniel Wakelin (Oxford) Heather Wolfe (Folger Shakespeare Library), Henry Woudhuysen (Oxford).

The workshop will be held in the T. S. Eliot  Theatre, Merton College, Thursday 25 April, 9.30-4. Organized by the Centre for Early Modern Studies and Merton College History of the Book Group, with the co-operation of the Bodleian Library Centre for the Study of the Book.

The workshop has been timed so that delegates can also attend one of Professor Richard Beadle’s Lyell Lectures, ‘Medieval English Literary Autographs 1: Fugitive Pieces’, in the same venue at 5pm.

For registration, click here. For further details contact;  programme details will be posted soon at Registration closes Thursday 18 April.

Early Modern Dramatic Records

February 25, 2013

symeIn the scant records of Elizabethan drama, one document that stands out is the ‘plot’ of the second part of a play on The Seven Deadly Sins (digitized images of which are available at the Henslowe-Alleyn digitization project). In a CEMS works in progress session on ‘Doing Things with Records in Early Modern Theatre History’, Holger Schott Syme (Toronto), author of Theatre and Testimony in Shakespeare’s England: A Culture of Mediation (CUP, 2012) and Bart van Es, author of Shakespeare in Company (OUP, 2013) van esdiscussed the difficulty of moving from such records to firm grounds in literary history. Exploring a detailed image of the plot, Syme warned against the tendency to simplify elements that are in fact ambiguous palaeographically and in other ways. Van Es raised a different set of problems: critical value judgements often weighed the interpretation of documents without being fully scrutinized. If the discussion failed to produce a new consensus, it did help to raise some salutary doubts.