Recordings of selected past events are available through password-protected links. Please contact us for links and passwords.


April 15 | Noémie Ndiaye (Assistant Professor of English, University of Chicago)

“Afro-Romani Connections in Early Modern Drama (and Beyond)”


This event is co-sponsored by:


Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures

Department of English

Department of French


This talk brings to light a hitherto unnoticed network of Afro-Romani connections in later seventeenth century French and English drama, and it construes that network as conceptual and ethical genealogy for the bonds that exist today between Black studies and the fledgling field of Critical Romani studies. Close reading, among other objects, Molière’s Les fourberies de Scapin (1671) and its 1677 adaptation by Edward Ravenscroft through the lens of Critical Race Theory, I will show how theatrical culture across the Channel reckoned with the similar positionings of enslaved Roma and Sub-Saharan Africans within the logic of early modern white supremacy.



March 4 |  S. Max Edelson (Professor of History, University of Virginia)

“John Ogilby's Geographies: How a Restoration Impresario Imagined English America”


John Ogilby’s America (London, 1671) pictured the New World for English audiences by translating Arnoldus Montanus’s De Nieuwe en Onbekende Weereld (The New and Unknown World) (Amsterdam, 1671). Like the Dutch original on which it was based, Ogilby’s book marvels at outlandish Native cultures and exotic flora and fauna, enticing the reader with scores of illustrations, views, and maps. This paper examines how Ogilby altered his edition to describe English America in the midst of a second wave of colonization in North America and the West Indies. It focuses attention on five new images that Ogilby created as well as the new texts that he added to accompany them. Ogilby pictured America as populous, mysterious, and brimming with life--a space that invited a new generation of colonial settlers to give such abundance form and purpose. In doing so, he created an influential vision of a rising English empire in America.




February 4 |  Micaela Kowalski (University of Virginia)

“Conflating New Worlds: Visual Mix-Up and Mismatch in Early Modern German Prints of the Americas”


In the view of medieval and early modern Europeans looking out from the continent, the parts of the surrounding world were never stable and often ill-defined. Beyond the reality of constantly shifting political boundaries at home, European characterization of the outside world was also extremely fluid and was informed by the writings of the ancients, by biblical knowledge, and by the testaments of explorers and missionaries which appeared in popular manuscripts, and later, in printed books. With the increased exploration in the early sixteenth century and with the “discovery” of "new" places like the Americas, the west and south coast of Africa, and islands in the Pacific, the shifting boundaries between these places were still often ill-defined, conflated, or confused. Following this longer tradition of exploration and characterization, the new worlds of the early modern period were not defined in the ways we recognize – and neither were they clearly defined by the Europeans themselves who visited. Instead, far off places and peoples were characterized in terms of insiders or outsiders: meaning that their construction as “other” took precedence over their specific geographical locality. This talk traces these threads through a close analysis of printed images depicting new worlds; first, in demonstrating how Europeans thought of the new worlds as similar and interchangeable, especially along lines of latitude, and second, in showing how the construction of difference was based in malleable categories of moral difference, rather than concerned with modern ethnographical or geographical categories. Through cross-examination of three printed accounts from the early sixteenth century, this talk examines the ways in which Europeans characterized these newly discovered worlds and attempts to recover the sensibilities with which they imagined them. 


November 5 |  Andrea Pauw (Visiting Assistant Professor of Spanish, Wesleyan)

“Eschatological Soundscapes: Morisco Poetry for the End of Time”

m Christoph Weiditz, “Trachtenbuch” (1530s).

The cultural lives of Spanish Muslims are often framed as a narrative of decline: from the shining splendor of Andalusi poetry, to the Mudejars’ (Muslims living under Christian rule in medieval Iberia) waning knowledge of Arabic, to the Moriscos’ (Muslims forcibly converted to Christianity in the sixteenth century) impoverished understanding of Islam. Scholars have couched this decline in linguistic and alphabetic terms: from Andalusi Muslims’ Arabic texts, to Mudejars’ and Moriscos’ aljamiado writing (romance dialects transliterated with the Arabic script) and ultimately to Aragonese Moriscos’ use of the Latin script in manuscripts from the late-peninsular period into North African exile. Though persecution and forced conversion undoubtedly limited the Moriscos’ ability to produce and disseminate knowledge, the narrative of cultural degeneration elides the complex poetic practices that endured in Morisco communities. This paper reorients our attention from script to soundscape, examining the eschatological imagery embedded in the Coplas sacadas de los castigos del hijo de Edam (“Versified advice to the son of Adam”), a poem copied by an Aragonese Morisco with Roman characters in the early seventeenth century (Ms. 11/9393 olim S-1, Biblioteca de la Real Academia de la Historia). Creative adaptation of Arabic and aljamiado precedents highlights the Moriscos’ efforts to not only preserve knowledge of Islamic eschatology but to heighten its import and facilitiate its comprehension. A closer look at the religious and linguistic intersections in Moriscos’ poetic practices reveals the power of soundscapes at the dawn of modernity and the twilight of Muslim presence in Spain.

October 8 |  Andrew Devereux (UC San Diego)

Associate Professor, History


Beyond Sight of the Pole Star: Euro-African Encounters and the Construction of Difference in Early Modern West Africa”

A map from the Atlas compiled by the Portuguese cartographer Lázaro Luís in 1563 (Academia das Ciências, Lisbon)

The presence of Portuguese, Castilian, and Italian merchants, adventurers, and explorers in West Africa from the 1440s onward marks Europeans’ first regular, direct contact with the Tropics.  Although overlooked by comparison with the arrival of Europeans in the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa also represented a “New World” of sorts, in so far as its features challenged so much of Europeans’ geographical and ethnographic knowledge.  Indeed, Iberian incursion into West Africa diverged in significant ways from medieval Iberian expansion, in that it occurred in the “Torrid Zone,” a region about which circulated distinct ideas regarding climate and its determinative effect on human societies.  Moreover, the fact that most of the inhabitants were not adherents to any of the Abrahamic faiths posed challenges to Iberian legal doctrines concerning just war, conquest, and the enslavement of people.  Iberians’ contact with African Gentiles did not engender a scholarly and legal response of the same magnitude as the subsequent American encounter (exemplified by the debates between Las Casas and Sepúlveda), yet the textual record contains important evidence that points to the ways contact with sub-Saharan Africa forced Europeans to reconsider the origins and lineages of the Earth’s peoples and to examine questions of environmental determinism, confessional identity, and natural law in a new light.  This talk examines the fifteenth-century eastern Atlantic encounter to illuminate a range of discourses Europeans employed to write about the Torrid Zone and the Gentile peoples, furnishing us with a more complete context against which to understand early modern constructions of ethnic and racial difference, and against which to read the post-1492 American encounter.


April 30 | Guest Lecture by Christina Lee (Princeton)

Associate Professor, Spanish and Portuguese

"Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception and the Chinese Goddess of the Sea"

co-sponsored by the Institute of the Humanities and Global Culture and the Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese 


In this presentation, Dr. Lee examines the foundation and growth of the devotion to a foot-high wooden icon of the Immaculate Conception (known as Our Lady of Casaysay) who has also been identified as Ma-Cho, the Chinese goddess of the sea, since the seventeenth century. It argues that Philippine natives, Spaniards, and Chinese embraced the devotion to this icon as a means to protest the indiscriminate massacre of the Chinese in 1639 under Spanish rule.

April 9 | Shankar Nair

Assistant Professor, Religious Studies

"Ethics Through the Prism of Poetics: Early Modern Hindu and Muslim Re-tellings of the Ramayana Epic"


The epic tale of the Rāmāyaṇa -- credited in South Asian memory as the world's first poem -- has emerged as an enduring site of heated contention in contemporary India, alternately lauded as an emblem of virile Hindu nationalism, on the one hand, or critiqued as a traumatic relic of pre-/early modern patriarchy and misogyny, on the other. Modern re-tellings characteristically struggle to "save" the epic's protagonist, Rāma, from any charges of impropriety, deeming pre-colonial versions of the tale too ethically problematic. Such readings of the pre-colonial Rāmāyaṇa and its ethical significance, however, typically neglect at least two features of the poem's long history: (1) the sheer diversity of pre-colonial Rāmāyaṇa renditions, and (2) the aesthetic dimensions of each of these renditions. To make this case, I will compare three versions of a single contentious episode from the epic--Rāma's mutilation of the female "ogress," Śūrpaṇakhā--composed in the Sanskrit, Awadhi-Hindavi, and Persian languages, including one version by a Muslim poet. I argue that the three authors exhibit divergent ethical goals in their respective renditions of the episode, and, furthermore, that these distinct ethical goals are inseparable from the unique poetics that each author deploys.


March 19 | Rebecca Rush

Assistant Professor, English

"Between History and Abstraction: Naming and the Art of Particularity in Renaissance Poetics"


The practitioners of “historical poetics” often present critics with a choice: either they can read a poem as grounded in the soil of historical particularity or they can read it as an abstracted, deracinated lyric. Either the “I” of a poem is a historical person or it is a dreamy abstraction. In this presentation, I want to explore the early modern poetic theory that the persons of poetry share many of the particularized qualities of historical (or living) individuals but that poetic persons stand apart from reality and history. The personal pronoun “you,” and other names akin to it, work to carve out a realm of particularity that is distinct from historical particularity without crossing over into pure abstraction. Early modern grammarians, breaking down the Latin etymology of pronoun into pro and nomen, define it as a part of speech that “sta[n]deth for,” is “put in stead of,” or “serueth for” a noun.Since the grammatical role of the pronoun is to re-present a noun, it has a certain amount of distancing and abstraction built into its grammatical structure. The “you” so often addressed in poetry hovers somewhere in a pronominal place between common and proper, abstract and realized, inclusive and intimate. Early modern poets, who so often insisted that the unique strength of poetry was its ability to dwell in a realm between (or perhaps beyond) universal and particular, were determined to mine this rich middle ground of “you.” This presentation will consider what the art of naming (and not naming) might reveal about the stakes of poetic writing in the early modern period.


March 5 | 12-1:30pm on Zoom | Guest Presentation by Rivi Handler-Spitz (Macalester)

Associate Professor, Asian Languages and Cultures

"From the Early Modern to Graphic Scholarship: Reflections on Methodology"

         (in collaboration with the Asian Cosmopolitanisms Lab)


 February 26 | Elizabeth Fowler

Associate Professor, English

"Andrew Marvell and the Temporality of Art: Cloister, Gallery, Country House, Poem"


Elizabeth Fowler will present an idea from her book manuscript, The Flesh of Art: Poetry and the Built Environment. When Andrew Marvell thinks about the Reformation repurposing of monasteries, he thinks about it together with poetry’s ability to repurpose “techniques of the body” (Marcel Mauss’s phrase) like sleeping, sex, and walking. Some simple thoughts about body techniques and the pre- and post-Reformation architecture of Lacock Abbey (Wiltshire, England), will arise as context, and Marvell’s poems “The Gallery” and “Upon Appleton House” will be described as supports for configuring the habitus of readers. Artifacts like poems and buildings usually change more slowly than body techniques or the meanings we generate with them—how can we account for this ephemerality in literary and art history and criticism? You can find more about Elizabeth Fowler’s work here. 


December 4 | Guest Lecture by Russ Leo (Princeton)

co-sponsored by the English Department and the Institute of the Humanities and Global Culture

jan de baen

In his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus Spinoza recognizes the importance of theater in civic life as well as the resources shared between stagecraft and statecraft, between poetics and scriptural exegesis. Students of politics and religion, he suggests, do well to consider how dramatists and orators mobilize affects and passions. He shared this perspective with his close friends Lodewijk Meyer and Joannes Bouwmeester, prominent members of the artistic society or kunstgenootschap Nil Volentibus Arduum—that is, “Nothing is difficult for the willing”—a group that began meeting in 1669 in order to reform poetry and language in the Dutch Republic; theirs is a neglected effort to develop philosophical theses on tragedy in particular, in conversation with advocates of neoclassicism as well as Cartesian and post-Cartesian philosophy. In this paper I illustrate how, just as Spinoza turned to theater in the Tractatus to express the abuses of wonder and the hazards of imagination, the members of Nil Volentibus Arduum seize theater as a medium, and tragedy as an imaginative means, to shape and influence a public at a crucial moment in the history of the Dutch Republic.  


November 13 | Nizar F. Hermes

Associate Professor, Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures

“‘This Tunis, Sir, Was Carthage:’ Abū al-Fat al-Tūnisī’s Nostalgia for the Besieged ‘Bride of the Maghrib’”

The 15th/16th century exilic Tunisian scholar/poet’s 51-line Nūniyya (Ode Rhyming in the Letter Nūn [N]) which he penned in Damascus at the onset of the 1535 Spanish conquest  of Ḥafṣid Tunis (13th-16th centuries) stands as one of the finest masterpieces of the neglected premodern and precolonial Maghribi city poetry, which I explore in my forthcoming Of Lost Cities and the Poetic Imagination in the Premodern and Precolonial Maghrib: 9th-19th Centuries AD. In his magnum opus Nafḥ al-ṭīb (The Breath of Perfume), famed Algerian historian and anthologist al-Maqqarī al-Tilmisānī (d.1632) extolled the Nūniyya as one of the greatest  nostalgic and elegiac poems ever composed—of course, up until his own time. Al-Maqqarī’s eloquent praise of the Nūniyya is worth quoting in toto and should serve as a North African appetizer for the talk:

“The poem of the renowned judge, the great litterateur whose poetic masterpieces captivated the minds as he extracted them from the hidden quarters of his thoughts. The sheikh, the imām, my lord [Sidi] Abū al-Fatḥ Muhammad ʿAbd al-Sālām al-Maghribī al-Tūnisī, resident of Damascus—may God sprinkle his grave with the rain of mercy and delight. This poem is the release of an ailing foreigner and the legitimate grief of a clever person. Like myself, he left his home country and never forgot it, and continued to [devotionally] read the verses of sorrow and recited them, and kept hoping that that Time would gift him the seeing of its gilded beauty.”

October 23 | Amanda Phillips

Assistant Professor, Art History

“Beyond Text: What Objects Can Tell Us”

Amanda Phillips will be speaking about her new book, Sea Change: Ottoman Textiles between the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean (University of California Press, 2021), which argues for the central role of textiles in daily life across the social and economic continuum. In this talk, Amanda will discuss how objects can, and do, tell stories not found in written sources.  


October 15 | 4-5pm on Zoom | Discussion of Plague and Empire in the Early Modern Mediterranean World: The Ottoman Experience, 1347-1600 (Cambridge UP 2015) by Nükhet Varlik (Associate Professor, History, University of South Carolina and Rutgers University-Newark) (in collaboration with the Medieval Studies Program)


September 25 | Ricardo Padrón

Associate Professor, Spanish, Italian, & Portuguese

"The Indies of the Setting Sun: How Early Modern Spain Mapped the Far East as the Transpacific West"

Ricardo Padrón will be speaking about his new book, The Indies of the Setting Sun: How Early Modern Spain Mapped the Far East as the Transpacific West (University of Chicago Press, 2020), which challenges prevailing narratives about the so-called “invention of America” by exploring the transpacific commitments of the Spanish Indies as a geopolitical concept