A Graduate Student Conference at Princeton University
May 1-2, 2008
Keynote by Tara Nummedal of Brown University
As Steven Shapin argues in The Social History of Truth, Robert Boyle constructed the ideal of the truthful natural philosopher in seventeenth-century England as the sober, disinterested, decorous gentleman. Passion, interest, and exaggeration were cast as the signs of the lowly tradesman or mechanick, who could be given the lie without offense to the natural philosophical community. Shapin successfully interrogates the credible witness as a social category; in this workshop we hope to do the same for the voluble liar. One use of “charlatan,” a new term in the sixteenth century designating one who talked too much, was as a social marker for branding those not accepted among the gentleman virtuosi. Without turning critical attention on the category of the “charlatan,” we run the danger of re-creating the social biases of our sources.
The gentlemanly witness, himself transparent, had to see through the rough corporality of natural bodies. His optical instruments opened a perfect window onto a reality too remote to be apparent to the unequipped eye. Svetlana Alpers relates early modern optical instruments to a particularly northern “art of describing.” Yet optics were also widely employed to create magical distortions or illusive verisimilitude. What was the relationship of visual fiction and the early modern optical exploration of reality or irreality?
While early modern exploration can be seen to contribute to “information overload,” it also entailed the telling of fantastic traveler’s tales. In the literature of our period we find a marked prominence of the unreliable narrator, from More’s Utopia and Erasmus’ Praise of Folly to Cervantes’ Don Quixote. In this workshop we hope to draw attention to irreality, imagination, falsehood, and contradiction in Renaissance discovery.
Papers from all humanistic disciplines addressing the following topics in all regions of Europe are welcome:
Publishing and intellectual property rights
Invention and sociability
Incredible witnesses in historiography
Entrepreneurs and natural philosophy
Early modern terms of abuse
Gender and truth
Claims of the marketplace
Enthusiasm and the social order
Please send abstracts by January 15, 2008 to firstname.lastname@example.org. Complete accepted papers due by April 1, 2008.
Under the auspices of Renaissance Studies at Princeton.
Princeton, NJ 08544 Email: email@example.com
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