By Tara Nummedal
In our fall feature on the digital history projects of History faculty, here we highlight Professor Tara Nummedal, who is leading one of Brown’s three Mellon Foundation-sponsored digital publishing projects. A historian of early modern European science, Nummedal is helping Brown take a major step forward in its capacity to turn cutting-edge scholarship into innovative, high quality, and professionally vetted digital publications.
On the eve of the Thirty Years War, the German alchemist and physician Michael Maier published Atalanta fugiens (1618), a lavishly illustrated musical alchemical emblem book. Maier retools Ovid’s legend of the fleet-footed virgin huntress Atalanta, whom Hippomenes hopes to best in a race by dropping three distracting golden apples in her path, as an alchemical allegory designed to engage the ear, eye, and intellect (and, perhaps, to teach readers how to make the philosophers’ stone). The book unfolds as a series of fifty emblems, each of which combines text in German and Latin with an etching and the score for a fugue in three voices. As Maier’s title pages explains, Atalanta fugiens is to be “seen, read, reflected upon, comprehended, weighed, sung, and heard.”
We are fortunate to have this spectacular book at Brown in the Hay Library, and a digitized copy of Brown’s copy makes it accessible for those far from campus as well. Furnace and Fugue, the digital book I am now developing with co-editor Donna Bilak and in collaboration with Brown’s Digital Publishing Initiative, will bring Maier’s multimedia puzzle book to life in new ways. We are creating a dynamic, enhanced digital edition of Atalanta fugiens, making it possible for users to select customized sets of emblems or to listen to recordings of the fifty fugues, for example, as well as a critical anthology of media-rich interpretative essays that will explore the significance of Maier’s ambitious book in the context of early modern European culture. At the same time, we aim to help reimagine the scholarly publication in the digital age by producing a scholarly work that meets the rigorous scholarly standards of the university while also presenting arguments in innovative formats and reaching new audiences in the classroom and beyond the academy.
We plan to submit Furnace and Fugue to a university press for review by the end of 2018. In the meantime, a varied group of scholars, students, and other interested readers have been exploring a new emblem from Atalanta fugiens each Friday on Instagram. We invite you to follow along @ProjectAtalanta!
Image: This is the title page of Michael Maier, Atalanta fugiens [Atalanta fleeing] (1618), depicting the classical myth of the fleet-footed huntress Atalanta, her suitor Hippomenes, and the golden apples with which he tempts her during their race.