Inventing the Renaissance
Join us for a conversation with Paula Findlen and Ada Palmer, jointly sponsored by Stanford Continuing Studies and the University of Chicago Graham School.
About the Event
The Renaissance is famously described as an era of rebirth, the creation of a new world at the end of the Middle Ages. But what exactly does this mean and how did it occur? This seminar explores the many inventions and reinventions of the Renaissance from the first figures who advanced the idea of a middle age between antiquity and their own, to the modern art museums which transform pre-modern political claims about a Renaissance golden age into modern claims that affect how audiences around the world understand our past and present.
Ubaldo Pierotti Professor of History and Professor, by courtesy, of French and Italian
Paula Findlen has taught the early history of science and medicine for many years on the premise that one of the most important ways to understand how science, medicine and technology have become so central to contemporary society comes from examining the process by which scientific knowledge emerged. She also takes enormous pleasure in examining a kind of scientific knowledge that did not have an autonomous existence from other kinds of creative endeavors, but emerged in the context of humanistic approaches to the world (in defiance of C.P. Snow's claim that the modern world is one of "two cultures" that share very little in common). More generally, she is profoundly attracted to individuals in the past who aspired to know everything. It still seems like a worthy goal.
Her other principal interest lies in understanding the world of the Renaissance, with a particular focus on Italy. She continues to be fascinated by a society that made politics, economics and culture so important to its self-definition, and that obviously succeeded in all these endeavors for some time, as the legacy of such figures as Machiavelli and Leonardo suggests. Renaissance Italy, in short, is a historical laboratory for understanding the possibilities and the problems of an innovative society. As such, it provides an interesting point of comparison to Gilded Age America, where magnates such as J.P. Morgan often described themselves as the "new Medici," and to other historical moments when politics, art and society combined fruitfully.
Finally, she has a certain interest in the relations between gender, culture and knowledge. Virginia Woolf rightfully observed at the beginning of the twentieth century that one could go to a library and find a great deal about women but very little that celebrated or supported their accomplishments. This is no longer true a century later, in large part thanks to the efforts of many scholars, male and female, who have made the work of historical women available to modern readers and who have begun to look at relations between the sexes in more sophisticated ways. Our own debates and disagreements on such issues make this subject all the more important to understand.
Associate Professor of Early Modern European History and the College at the University of Chicago
Ada Palmer is a cultural and intellectual historian focusing on radical thought and the recovery of the classics in early modern Europe, especially the Italian Renaissance. An Associate Professor in the History Department with affiliations in Classics, Gender Studies, and the Institute on the Formation of Knowledge, she works on the history of science, religion, heresy, freethought, atheism, censorship, books, printing, and the networks of money and power that enable cultural production. Her current research focuses on censorship during information revolutions, and how studying the print revolution can help lawmakers and corporations make wiser choices during the digital revolution, and her first academic book Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance (2014) explores the impact of the rediscovery of classical atomism on the birth of modern thought. She is also a science fiction and fantasy novelist, author of the award-winning Terra Ignota series beginning with Too Like the Lightning (Tor Books), which explores a twenty-fifth civilization of voluntary citizenship and borderless nations, written in the a style of an eighteenth-century philosophical novel. She is also a composer, studies anime and manga, works as a consultant for anime and manga publishers, blogs for Tor.com, and writes the philosophy and travel blog ExUrbe.com.