English 250

Research Seminar: Renaissance Things

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Spring 2012 Landreth, David
Landreth, David
Thurs. 3:30-6:30 new room: 50 Barrows

Book List

Brown, Bill, ed.: Things; Jonson, Ben: Alchemist and Other Plays; Latour, Bruno: We Have Never Been Modern; Marx, Karl: Capital, Volume I; Middleton, Thomas, et al.: The Roaring Girl; Nashe, Thomas: The Unfortunate Traveller and Other Works; Shakespeare, William: Othello; Shakespeare, William: The Taming of the Shrew; Spenser, Edmund: The Faerie Queene

Other Readings and Media

The balance of the readings will be posted as .pdf to the class bSpace site.


In the middle of the nineteenth century, the intellectual historian Jacob Burckhardt argued that the Renaissance marked the beginning of modern culture—an emergence which he defined as the disruption of medieval systems that had discouraged the differentiation of individuals from the social world by a new, dialectical relationship between the self-contained "subject" and a world perceived as a collection of "objects." This seminar will look directly at the long orthodoxy of subject-object relations as the modern-ness of early modernity, as well as at recent criticism of "material culture" that seeks to complicate or supplant that orthodoxy with different accounts of how the individual, the social, and the material impinged upon one another in the period. We'll be looking at a range of Tudor and Stuart texts that pay particular attention to things and stuffs, and seeing what extra-objective categories might emerge from them for expressing the material in discourse: "ekphrasis," for example, or "fetish." The biggest question I have in mind is what this engagement of materiality has to do with the theory of history—why should the narrative of modernity depend on the progress of the object from a material category into an epistemological axiom, objectivity? How might counterpoising "thing" to "object," and "Renaissance" to "early modern," help us to attend to historical problems of progress, periodization, and periodicity?

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