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Archive newsletter, 1 June 2015

Welcome to the Forum newsletter for our latest round-up of news and cultural events from the Early Modern period.

There are several Calls for Papers out at the moment, all for conferences later this year, which may be of interest.

The Limerick Early Modern Studies Forum supports the research activities of scholars of the history and culture of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries at the University of Limerick and Mary Immaculate College in Ireland. It is holding a ‘Moments of Becoming’ Conference on 20-21 November, and the interdisciplinary event aims to explore the theme of ‘becoming’ in early modern European and Irish culture. To submit a proposal for a 20-minute paper send an abstract of about 250 words to Richard Kirwan ( ) or Clodagh Tait ( ) by 10 July.

There is a call for papers for the symposium Extreme Emotions in Early Modern Literature and Culture, which will be held at the Centre for Studies in Literature, University of Portsmouth, on October 31. Abstracts of 250-300 words for 20-minute papers, or proposals for panels on topics, should be sent to Dr Jessica Dyson (University of Portsmouth) and Dr Stephen Curtis (Lancaster University) at by July 15. There is more information here.

The Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies at Durham University is holding a conference entitled Montaigne in Early Modern England and Scotland from 6-7 November. It is inviting proposals for 20-minute papers on any aspect of the reception of Montaignes Essais in England and the larger Anglophone world, including Ireland, Scotland, and North America, during the first 200 years following their initial publication in French. A title and abstract of no more than 200 words, and a one page CV, can be sent to no later than August 1.

PhD students on their second or later year, or those who have held a PhD for no more than four years are invited to the workshop Secularism and Religion in Early Modern Europe (XVIth-XVIIIth centuries) at the Escuela Española de Historia y Arqueologia en Roma from 5-9 October in co-operation with the Istituto Sangalli di storia e culture religiose in Florence. There will be seminar lessons in the morning, and in the afternoon 12 early career scholars will present their research projects. A 200 euro grant will be given towards travel. Send an application by June 14 to , and there is more information here.

The Centre for the Study of the Renaissance at the University of Warwick is inviting expressions of interest from highly-qualified researchers in the field who seek to apply for a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship, tenable within the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance at Warwick. For more information contact the director, Prof Ingrid De Smet on . The deadline is September 10. There is more information here.

In other news, there was lots of coverage of the story originally reported in Country Life magazine, that botanist and historian Mark Griffiths claimed to have found the only authentic portrait of William Shakespeare made during his lifetime. He said the small monochrome engraving of a laurel-wreathed man in a 16th century book on plants was the Bard, though he had spent five years since finding it trying to disprove it. However he believed he hasd cracked a Tudor code of ciphers, symbolic flowers and motifs to prove it was Shakespeared, as explained in this story.

It was reported that a church which provided sanctuary for doomed King Charles I, St John the Evangelist at Little Gidding in Cambridgeshire (below), is in jeopardy unless urgent repair work is carried out. The Rev Mary Jepp has appealed for help to meet repair bills of at least £60,000. The church was built by the Ferrars family in 1625, and Charles I is believed to have visited several times, including on May 2 1646, on the run after the battle of Naseby. The church also features in a TS Eliot poem.

The Guardian reported on the newly-opened private quarters of Sir John Soane’s House and museum in London, which Rowan Moore said revealed “morbid passions alongside the marvels”. The top floor where Soane and his wife Eliza lived includes her room which was turned into a display room for models of buildings after her death, and his bathtub which he decided late in life to fill with spectacles, false teeth and documents, saying it must not be opened until the 50th anniversary of his wife’s death.


On there was a rather different review to normal, with Judith Siefring from the Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford reviewing JISC Historical Texts edited by Scott Gibbens. It brings together for the first time Early English Books Online, Eighteenth Century Collections Online and the British Library 19th century collection, and can be accessed via subscription at UK Higher and Further Education institutions. The reviewer looks at how useful this new resource is, and how easily or not information can be found.

Martin Delrio: Demonology and Scholarship in the Counter-Reformation by Jan Machielsen was reviewed by Dr Francis Young, who said it was ostensibly the first modern biography of the Jesuit scholar Delrio (1551–1608), best known today as the author of the treatise on witchcraft Disquisitiones magicae (‘Investigations into magic’). Dr Young said that the author gives an account of the diverse interests and complex career of Delrio but also gives “what amounts to a revised historiography of witchcraft beliefs as well as the Catholic Counter Reformation”. He concludes by saying the book is a major scholarly achievement and should be on the reading list of every course on the Counter Reformation.

Fatal Rivalry, Flodden 1513: Henry VIII, James IV and the battle for Renaissance Britain by George Goodwin was reviewed by Dr Alexander Hodgkins of Manchester Metropolitan University, who said the author locates the origins of the battle in the “the incrementally deteriorating situation between the two realms and their rulers”. The opening chapters go back into the late 15th century to highlight the similarities between the rulers of England and Scotland then develops into a discussion about how royal authority was expanded and consolidated in both realms. The reviewer found the discussion of English and Scottish seapower particularly noteworthy. The author is described as presenting the history into which the battle fits, to make it a valuable addition to work on sixteenth century Renaissance kingship and conflict.

The Eagle and the Dragon: Globalization and European Dreams of Conquest in China and America in the Sixteenth Century by Serge Gruzinski was reviewed by Professor Felipe Fernandez-Armesto of the University of Notre Dame. He said the author “compares Cortés’s actions in Mexico with suggestions for the invasion of China, adumbrated by Portuguese captives in Canton in 1522–3”. There are short narratives of both episodes, but the approach is analytical as he looks at Iberian preconceptions and perceptions of the regions, the participants’ perceptions, and the reasons for the contrasting fortunes of the protagonists. The reviewer said there is a question of why one campaign succeeded and one didn’t which raises big problems of whether a globally-minded historian can attain a high enough level of analysis to generalise well without losing sight of regional and local issues, and he said Gruzinski had not exploited the opportunity effectively. However the author did sometimes alert readers to potentially interesting approaches and interesting comparisons.

Ephemeral City: Cheap Print and Urban Culture in Renaissance Venice by Rosa Salzberg, Assistant Professor of Italian Renaissance History at the University of Warwick , was reviewed by Dr Alexander S. Wilkinson of University College Dublin, who described it as “surely one of the most significant and impressive works on early modern European print culture to have been published in recent years”. Dr Wilkinson said the premise of the book is that if we listen carefully to the "paper echoes" of the varied cheap print produced, it will tell us about life in the city at that time. It was also the first book to explore the industry of cheap print, including its financing, production, distribution and regulation, so more able to situate it in its physical environment than any previous study. The monograph emerged from the author’s doctoral research, which Dr Wilkinson said made it a “truly breathtaking accomplishment”.

West African Warfare in Bahia and Cuba: Soldier Slaves in the Atlantic World 1807-1844 by Manuel Barcia was reviewed by Dr Ulrike Schmieder of Leibniz University of Hanover, who said the book compared the agency of West Africans, particularly of Yoruba origin, as soldier slaves in the slave insurrections in Bahia and Cuba, 1807–44. It begins with a historiography on the role of African warfare in armed slave resistance in the Americas. The reviewer would have liked more and longer quotations of sources in which the speech of Africans is recorded, and wondered why after the author pointed out his deficit of information on female leaders in slave wars he did not fill it. Dr Schmieder concluded though that the book was a very valuable study in a new research field which could be recommended sincerely.

A Natural History of English Gardening by Mark Laird was described by reviewer Andrea Wulf in the Guardian as a groundbreaking study in which the author presented gardens alive with sounds and animals, challenging our ideas of the eighteenth century garden. Laird gathered information from letters, journals and newspapers, starting with gardener and diarist John Evelyn, of Sayes Court in Deptford at the Thames from 1653-1694, whose diaries detailed the effect of weather on plants and also described caterpillars as “cursed Devourers” and butterflies as “flying flowers”. The author also focused on the contribution of women in gardening and natural history. The book is packed with engravings, paintings and coloured botanical drawings, as well as reproductions of letters, sketches and estate maps.

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon was reviewed by Lucy Letheridge in the Guardian who said the weighty double biography found fascinating links between Mary Shelley and the mother who died a few days after her birth. The book is written chronologically with alternative chapters on each woman, so the reader moves back and forth in time, but seeing the differences as well as the similarities in their lives. The reviewer said the most interesting chapters came at the end of the book and dealt with what happened to the reputations of Wollstonecraft and Shelley after their deaths. The Independent found that the book shed new light on the women, who both believed in making their own rules, and who both wrote ground-breaking books. It also captured their humanity and highlighted the dilemmas they faced juggling the competing demands of being lovers, mothers and writers.

The News from Waterloo: the Race to Tell Britain of Wellington’s Victory by Brian Cathcart was reviewed by Lewis Jones in the Telegraph, who said it was a worthy addition to the bicentennial Waterloo books. Cathcart is a journalism professor who considers Waterloo as a news story, with a snappy account of the battle, then a review of the legends of the ways the news reached London. He told the tale intercut with what was described as a fascinating account of the Fleet Street of the day, and the reviewer found the book an entertaining addition to the library on the subject.

The Fortunes of Francis Barber by Michael Bundock was reviewed by Henry Hitchings, who said it was a remarkable story about a Jamaican slave who ended up as the chief beneficiary of Samual Johnson’s will, having been his man servant. The long review tells the amazing story of Barber’s life.


In the Guardian, Michael Billington was critical of the Royal Shakespeare theatre’s new production of The Merchant of Venice at Stratford-upon-Avon, saying it was poorly conceived, drably spoken, and nothing added up in a show which failed to anchor the play in a specific location. He said Polly Findlay’s production had a lack of social context which affected the performances. The play is on until September 2.

In the Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish reviewed The Merchant of Venice at the Globe in London and said Jonathan Pryce gave a highly sympathetic performance as Shylock. He said the play was always more of a duty than a pleasure, but this was not hard going, with lighter and darker elements combining. It is on until June 7.

At the Druid theatre, Galway, (right) Garry Hynes has directed a gender-blind production of Richard II, Henry IV parts one and two and Henry V, with the resulting six hours described as an “exhilarating epic”, rather than being exhausting, by Michael Billington in the Guardian. The plays are used to show themes, including the burden of kingship. The production was on in Galway until May 30, then on tour until August 15.

For the Telegraph, Jane Shilling reviewed As You Like It at Shakespeare’s Globe, and found it a fine production of a tricky comedy, and witty and affectionate, directed by Blanche McIntyre. As the action moved from court to forest, it increasingly extended into the audience, with a score by Johnny Flynn with “groans and twangs of sackbut, hurdy-gurdy and lute”, and the show slowly revealed its cleverness. The production is on until September 5.

*We would welcome news of your recently-published journal articles or books, and forthcoming conferences. You can email Newsletter Author Julie Chamberlain at with details.