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PCMRS Report by Matthew Topp

Prato Consortium for Medieval and Renaissance Studies
Postgraduate Workshop and Roundtable at the Monash University Prato Centre

11th and 12th December 2018

This year I was lucky enough to attend the 2018 gathering of the Prato Consortium for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, held at the Monash University Prato Centre from the 11th to the 12th of December. As is tradition, the proceedings kicked off on the Tuesday night with the annual Bill Kent Prato Lecture. This year’s speaker was the ever-inspiring Professor Nicholas Terpstra (University of Toronto), whose lecture, entitled “Ambivalent Neighbours: Spatial & Sensory Boundaries Between Christians, Jews, and Muslims in Renaissance Italy”, demonstrated how early modern Livorno constructed ‘walls’ between religious communities through means other than bricks and mortar.

The Wednesday postgraduate workshop, where I had the opportunity to present on my current doctoral research, was absolutely packed this year, with a total of 10 papers from 5 universities presenting across three sessions. Sessions were chaired by undergraduate students from Monash University’s ‘Renaissance in Florence’ intensive module – Anita Pillai, Thomas Bailey, and Emma-Grace Clarke – who were extremely professional and did an outstanding job. Our best wishes also go to Darius Sepehri (University of Sydney), who had planned to attend but was unable to join us due to unforeseen illness.

The day opened with a fantastic panel featuring papers from Hannah Skipworth (Monash University) on Hildegard of Bingen’s understanding of the universe as a cosmic egg; Sarah Lennard-Brown (Birkbeck, University of London) on the specialisation of Alms-houses for the care of the old, impotent and poor in Early Modern London and Florence; Gordon Whyte (Monash) on the varied understandings of the plague in the fifteenth century Italy; and Rose Byfleet (Birkbeck) of the fascinating and understudied use of fragrance as legitimate medicine in Early Modern Italy.

After a brief pausa caffé, session two provided a varied yet complementary set of papers from Hana Suckstorff (University of Toronto) on the superficial performance of identity by Catholic renegades to the Early Modern Roman Inquisition; Bert Carlstrom (Queen Mary, University of London) on how attitudes to farthingales can reveal moral, religious, and political tensions in Early Modern Granada; and Lana Stephens (Monash) on Marsilio Ficino’s manipulation of language, genre, and rhetoric in the promotion of his Neoplatonic theology.

The third and final postgraduate session commenced with Eva van Kemenade’s (University of Amsterdam) fantastic presentation on the powerplays involved in the popular festivals of the printers of Early Modern Lyon. This was followed by Sarah McBride’s (Birkbeck) entertaining discussion of visual representations of the 1541 incident between the court dwarf Morgante and Pirro Colonna at the court of Duke Cosimo I, and lastly my own paper on how the exile of Palla di Nofri Strozzi from Florence in 1434 threatened his posthumous memory by attacking his honour and reputation. I think I speak for all the postgraduates in thanking the academic respondents and the audience for offering genuinely engaging and constructive feedback and questions, both during and between sessions.

Finally, the day concluded with a stimulating roundtable discussion. Led by Prof. Terpstra, members of the consortium ranging from senior scholars through postgraduates to undergraduates pondered the purpose, public dissemination, and future direction of Medieval and Early Modern studies as a field. Throughout all these sessions and discussions, the supportive and welcoming attitude of all members of the consortium was incredible. My time in Prato was both immensely thought-provoking and enjoyable, and I would encourage all postgraduate to attend if given the opportunity. 

Matthew Topp, Joint Doctoral Candidate, Monash University / University of Warwick