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New England Renaissance Conference "Nature's Disciplines"
October 20, 2007

In the early modern period scientia, or certain knowledge, depended on a vast terrain of assumptions and philosophies, practices and interests that were integral to the demands and contingencies of a way of life completely different from our own.  The structures by which knowledge was produced occupied early modern scholars and practitioners in ways that are now difficult to recover with much subtlety. Burning questions of the day were not whether there was a philosopher’s stone, but rather how to find it, and the same goes for mythological beasts such as dragons. Did statues dug out of the earth share properties with fossils, similarly found? Did the earth rise in some seasons because, being warm, it managed to dissipate some of its heavier, more melancholic humors?  Questions such as these were hotly debated in the early modern period by those passionate about the pursuit of natural knowledge, and these conversations took place in papal palaces, artisan’s workshops, and across publications.  

The 2007 New England Renaissance Conference will provide a venue for discussing the borders that defined nature’s disciplines before they looked like the ones we recognize today.  We will come together to test the limits of our own disciplines as we explore structures of knowledge in the Renaissance and early modern period.

Sponsored by The Cogut Center for the Humanities, The Renaissance and Early Modern Studies Program, Department of History of Art & Architecture (Margerie Cutler Endowment), and The Committee on Science and Technology Studies.

Schedule of Events
Morning Session
Starr Auditorium, MacMillan Hall 117
Manning Walk

9:00 - 9:45am  
Arrival and coffee    

9:45 - 10:15am
"Arduous Terrain From Afar:  Pietro Castelli's Investigation of Nature”    
Sean Cocco
, Trinity College

Before the seventeenth century, volcanoes ranked among the least-known features of the Earth.  Investigated with increasing frequency in Southern Italy and the Americas in the mid-1500s, they came to occupy a rich place in the body of early modern knowledge, somewhere between natural history and natural philosophy.  This paper analyzes the work of Pietro Castelli, a Roman physician and botanist, who authored a treatise on a volcanic eruption in 1632, notably without having observed it.

10:15 - 10:45am
 “Envisioning Empire: Competing Cartographies in the Eighteenth-Century Hispanic World”
Ricardo Padròn, University of Virginia

This paper compares two mapping projects, one emanating from the center of the Spanish Monarchy in the eighteenth century, and the other from the periphery. The first, the so-called “Cruz y Cano Map,” represents the most important map of the Americas ever commissioned by the Spanish Crown. The other, the “Aspecto Geográfico del Mundo Hispánico,” is the work of a Jesuit priest living and working in Manila. Ironically, it is the latter map, particularly when considered alongside an allegorical drawing made to accompany it, that makes the more ambitious claims about the breadth and vigor of Spanish power. This paper will compare these two cartographic visions of empire as functions of their place of enunciation.

10:45 - 11:15am  

11:15 - 11:30am   

11:30am - 12:00pm   
"Perpetual Devotion: A Sixteenth-Century Machine that Prays"
Elizabeth King, Virginia Commonwealth University

A Renaissance clockwork monk (see photos in sidebar) now in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, together with the legend of its votive connection to an episode from the history of medicine and miracle, afford a glimpse of competing definitions of the substance of the alive body in the early Counter-Reformation: the birth of the machine in the Age of Faith.

12:00 - 12:30pm  
“The Renaissance of Death and of the Dead”
Frank Fehrenbach, Harvard University

This paper exemplifies the Renaissance discourse on ‘living’ paintings and sculptures. The category of ‘enlivenment’ oscillates between apparently moving, breathing, looking representations and the factual lifelessness of materials (ie., colors,  stone, or bronze). This is reflected in tomb sculpture and its contrast of dead corpses and dynamic evocations of the deceased as living organisms. It is also reflected, for instance, in Renaissance literature on art and its virtuoso juxtaposition of inert materials and the appearance of life.

12:30 - 1:00pm   


Annmary Brown Memorial
21 Brown Street

Afternoon Session
Starr Auditorium, MacMillan Hall 117
Manning Walk       

2:30 - 3:00pm    
"Analogy, Metaphor, and the New Science"
Mary Crane, Boston College

Contemporary cognitive science can help us to understand the epistemological changes that accompanied the early modern scientific revolution in new ways.  Most strikingly, it questions the idea put forward  by thinkers as different as E.M. W. Tillyard and Michel Foucault that a world view based on analogy and correspondence yielded in the seventeenth century to one based on difference.  Instead, cognitive studies of analogy suggest that an older system of correspondences based on shared qualities gave way to a use of analogy to convey the structural relationships among things that were qualitatively different. Cognitive studies of intuitive science also allow us to understand the ways in which the transition to the new science drove a wedge between scientists and non-scientists that had never existed before.  It also helps us to understand the implications of the scientific revolution for ordinary (non-scientific) thought and language in new ways, as everyday experience of the natural world was severed from scientific explanations of it.  Finally, a recognition of the difference between qualitative and structural analogies can help us understand the change in poetic language from the sixteenth to the seventeenth centuries.  Spenser's image of a set of scales in the  *Faerie Queene* and the compass in Donne's "Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" illustrate the nature of this shift.

3:00 - 3:30pm
"Late Renaissance Natural Theology: Between Natural History and Apologetics"
Brian Ogilvie, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

The Renaissance saw the creation of a new scholarly discipline, natural history, and the revival of the ancient apologetic tradition of natural theology. Late Renaissance naturalists and divines saw a close connection between the two. A commonplace of Renaissance natural history was that it revealed God's work in His creation. At the same time, natural theology pointed to divine providence, revealed in nature's order, to refute "atheists" and "Epicureans." Beyond these commonplaces, though, a close study of concrete achievements of Renaissance natural history. Despite contemporaries' insistence on a connection between the two discourses, in practice, disciplinary boundaries proved difficult to cross.

3:30 - 4:00pm

4:00 - 4:30pm

Evening Program     

Concert by the Boston Schola Cantorum

Annmary Brown Memorial
21 Brown Street
Brown University

Pieces by Monteverdi and deWert; conducted by Fred Jodry, Brown University.

Reception to follow.

The conference, which includes lunch, is free to graduate and undergraduate students.  For all others, the fee is $15.00, payable by check or cash only, which will be collected at the conference.

 For planning purposes, we ask that everyone who plans to attend please pre-register by October 1. To register, contact