Prato Consortium for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 12-15 December 2017
Wednesday 13 December – Postgraduate Symposium
In December 2017, I had the pleasure to extend my stay in Italy, due to a work placement at the Biblioteca of the Museo Correr in Venice, to deliver a paper at the Postgraduate Symposium of the CSMR Monash Centre in Prato.
The symposium was dedicated to the theme 'The Body and the City' and saw the participation of postgraduates from across the globe, at both MA and PhD level. The scope of disciplines touched on was also broad and created a rich environment for interdisciplinary discussion. Papers presented a series of fascinating and complex case-studies: from plague hospitals (Marina Inì, University of Cambridge) to orphan care institutions (Spirit Waite, University of Toronto), depiction of dwarfs (Sarah McBryde, Birkbeck), miraculous images (Shannon Emily Gilmore University of California in Santa Barbara), itinerant informers (Richard Calis, Princeton University/University of Amsterdam), Dominican spirituality (Austin Powell, The Catholic University of America), and intellectual-cum-literary networks (Lana Stephens, Monash University).
My paper, ‘The Street Enters the House: Cheap Print Distribution and Consumption in Post-Tridentine Bologna’, fitted well into the symposium’s scope. By offering an overview of the places—throughout the city as well as indoors—where Bolognese cheap print was sold and distributed, I explored the ways in which urban spaces crucially affected how the local public had access to cheap-print products. A key argument of my dissertation is that in early-modern Italy the flimsiest products of the press created a distinctively pervasive and interconnected public sphere through their intermediality, ubiquity, and broadly social appeal. To present it in the stimulating atmosphere of the Prato CSMR Postgraduate Symposium proved extremely valuable, especially given that I am in my third year of study. The ensuing questions helped me sharpen my argument and overall sense of the dissertation, and I was very grateful for the incredible feedback and suggestions given by fellow postgraduates and renowned researchers present at the symposium.
Following my presentation, I acted as a chair for the last panel of the day, in itself a pleasant and useful experience in skill-development. Lunch was then followed by an informal discussion led by Nicholas Terpstra of the University of Toronto and centred on the meaning of Renaissance Studies today (‘The value of your work: the Future of Renaissance Studies’, led along with other members of the Prato Consortium). The session felt particularly relevant to us postgraduate students for it pressed us to consider critically our place in the field and overall academic world.
Our group of postgraduates got along so well that we decided to end the day in Prato by heading together to the Church St Maria delle Carceri, a gem of late Quattrocento Tuscan architecture where the name-sake miraculous image is still preserved. Thanks to the expert and friendly guidance of Shannon, we also squeezed in a visit to the exhibition ‘Legati dalla Cintola’ at the Museo Civico of Prato, dedicated to the local relic of the Sacred Belt. The perfect conclusion to a truly rewarding postgraduate symposium.
For those of us lucky enough to remain in Prato, the symposium also served as an anticipation to the brilliant Prato CSMR Bill Kent Lecture by John Henderson (Birkbeck/Monash University) on ‘Religion, Medicine and Art in the Time of Plague: Florence 1630-33’ and two-days conference on ‘Representing Infirmity: Diseased Bodies in Renaissance and Early Modern Italy’.