Monday, April 14, 2014

From History to Science in the Early Modern Atlantic

Please join us Tuesday, April 29th for a one-day symposium: From History to Science in the Early Modern Atlantic. The symposium will explore the role of indigenous people, ethnographers, and naturalists in the Spanish Atlantic in the development of early modern science.  We will have a keynote by Jorge Cañizares Esguerra, two plenaries by José Pardo Tomás and Carlos Viesca Treviño and presentations by María Portuondo, Marcy Norton, Ralph Bauer and Jaime Marroquín Arredondo. Please see the flyer with a tentative schedule.

Mexican Institute of Culture
2829 16th St NW, Washington, DC 20009

The event is sponsored by the Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute (MEMSI) at George Washington University, the Kislak Family Foundation, the Early Americas Working Group, the Mexican Institute of Culture, the Embassy of Spain and George Washington University.

Light breakfast, lunch and 'Mexican tapas' in the closing reception will be provided. Although this event is free and open to the public, we need accurate numbers and therefore ask you to RSVP here


9:00 AM            

9:30 AM           
Laura Ramírez Rasgado
Executive Director  
Mexican Cultural Institute

Jeffrey Cohen, 
Professor of English
Director, Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute (MEMSI)
George Washington University

9:45 AM            
A New World of Secrets: Curiosity and Natural History in the Sixteenth-Century Atlantic World
Ralph Bauer
University of Maryland

Dr. Bauer's talk will continue the ongoing critical reevaluation of sixteenth-century Spanish natural histories about the New World and its role in the history of science by focusing on the works of the royal chronicler Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés (1478–1557). His talk focuses specifically on the ideological legitimation of Christian curiosity in Oviedo’s works by synthesizing the Classical pagan tradition of natural history—especially as derived from Pliny—with the rhetorical tradition of the Christian martyr. This last tradition was inherited from thirteenth-century neo-Aristotelian (pseudo-) alchemists such as Arnald of Villanova and Raymond Lull. Oviedo's works form a crucial intellectual bridge between the thirteenth-century Aristotelian “scientific revolution” and the “scientific revolution” of the seventeenth century, translated into the English context by English alchemists such as Richard Eden and informing the natural histories written by such prominent English natural historians as Hans Sloane, president of the Royal Society of London.

10:30 AM           
Plenary Session
Francisco Hernández’s Historia natural de la Nueva España as an Unfinished Project
Jose Pardo Tomás
Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)

In recent years, Hernández's work seems to have finally caught the attention of the historiography that has elaborated a story of the history of science which strives to avoid a Eurocentric perspective. Nonetheless, it is our belief that much remains to be said on the long and unfinished Hernandian project to compile a Historia natural de la Nueva España. This presentation will explore three main issues in the Historia natural de la Nueva España: A) The empirical and scientific discourse and practices implemented by Hernandez and his collaborators during his stay in Mexico (1571-1577); B) American Indians' agency in the development of the work. C) The scope (and limits) of the Renaissance humanism influence in the intellectual conceptualization of a new, empirically-based historiography which characterizes Hernández's Historia natural de la Nueva España.

11:30 AM           
Mestizaje and The Ornithology of Francis Willughby
Marcy Norton
George Washington University

Despite the recent surge of interest in Iberian and colonial science, this paper will argue that we have still not sufficiently appreciated the degree to which early modern science was indebted to mestizaje and Amerindian cultural formations and actors. Dr. Norton's case study will investigate these themes through a close analysis of The Ornithology of Francis Willughby (London, 1678), a canonical text in the history of the biological sciences.  Moreover, she will argue that affective relationships between humans and animals were central to early modern natural history, as well as later zoology.

12:15 PM           
Lunch Break

1:30 PM           
Plenary Session
Native Physicians and their Medicine in Sixteenth-Century New Spain
Carlos Viesca Treviño
Mexico National University (UNAM)

After the Spanish Conquest, Native physicians subsisted under a diversity of conditions. Some of them worked inside their indigenous communities, but some were incorporated in different ways to the new social structures. In Franciscan convents and in Vasco de Quiroga's foundations in Michoacán, they were recognized as health care professionals, and considered as the most convenient people to take care of indigenous patients, because of their knowledge of their nature. The medical activity and its subjacent knowledge were thus an important factor to health attention. In this lecture, Dr. Viesca will present some data about this indigenous physicians, their professional activity and their medical knowledge, with special emphasis on the processes of appropriation of elements from Spanish medicine, the change of significance of some of their diagnosis and therapeutic criteria, the medicinal products interchange between both cultural realms and the presence of that knowledge in texts like the De la Cruz-Badianus Codex, the Florentine Codex and Francisco Hernández's Natural History.

2:30 PM           
Early Americas' Ethnography and Early Modern Science
Jaime Marroquín Arredondo
George Washington University

Recent history of science has established that the European study of early American geography, nature and culture helped transform the Western conception of reality. However, the method for obtaining, verifying and experiencing early American knowledge has not been studied in detail. This talk will analyze the evolution of the Spanish ethnographic method of studying, conceptualizing and describing early Americas' knowledge and its development from new empirical practices, contemporary judiciary practices, and particularly from Renaissance humanism's grammatology. Dr. Marroquín will outline key conceptual moments in the evolution of the Spanish American ethnographic-naturalist method in the works of Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, Sebastián Ramírez de Fuenleal, Andrés de Olmos, Bernardino de Sahagún, and Francisco Hernández. He argues that these cross-cultural ethnographic histories developed in practice key components of the later Baconian new science.

3:15 PM           
Coffee Break

3:30 PM           
Like Pieces of a Vast Puzzle: Describing the New World to the Old
Maria Portuondo
Johns Hopkins University

The discovery and colonization of the American continent presented Europe with an avalanche of new knowledge about natural world which like scattered pieces of a huge puzzle had to be assembled into a cohesive image. This enterprise would test those in charge of assembling the puzzle—from ship pilots, to geographers, to agents of the state—who in Spain and the Indies alike, transformed the ways in which knowledge was created and compiled. Throughout the presentation we will see how Spanish cosmographers collected geographical information about the vast territory, how indigenous groups sought to have their perspectives represented and how old patters of thought fell away giving way to the empiricist approach that characterizes the modern scientific enterprise.

4:15 PM           
Keynote Lecture
The Changing Contexts of Knowledge: Jesuit Mission Science, from the 16th to the 18th Centuries
Jorge Cañizares Esguerra
The University of Texas at Austin

In this talk Dr. Cañizares-Esguerra follows three different examples of Jesuit mission science: one in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries characterized by the empirical collection of data to effectively save souls; another in the mid eighteenth century characterized by global geopolitical calculation and trans-imperial rivalries in the Pacific; and a third in the late eighteenth century, characterized by the micro empirical description, to battle innuendo and state marginalization. This lecture will highlight the importance of context for understanding the history of science in the early modern Iberian empires (and everywhere else for that matter).

5:30 PM           
Closing Remarks
Jaime Marroquín Arredondo

5:45 PM           

(A PDF of this flyer is available for download here)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Dr. Vasileios Syros - April 24

We look forward to seeing you at this exciting event sponsored by GW's Department of History. 

"Delegation of Authority in Medieval and Early Modern Europe and the Islamic Empires"

Senior Research Fellow Academy of Finland 
Onassis Visiting Professor, McGill University

Thursday, April 24
801 22nd St. NW, Phillips Hall 411

Dr. Syros' research interests focus on the interaction among the Christian, Islamic, and Jewish traditions of political thought as well as on cross-cultural encounters in the early modern period.

Please RSVP to Professor Dina Khoury

Derrick Higginbotham - April 8

Please join us for Derrick Higginbotham's upcoming paper at GW.    

"On Wasting Wealth:  Conceptions of Consumption on Early Modern Stages."  
April 8, 2014
Marvin Center 402
800 21st St. NW
Washington, DC 20052

Derrick Higginbotham is a Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Cape Town, South Africa as well as a co-director of the graduate program. He publishes chiefly on late medieval and early modern theatre, including a recent article on the representation of rape in Cardenio.  Currently, he is finishing a book entitled Commercial Passions: Economic Practice and Self-Control on Late Medieval and Early Modern English Stages, which examines dramatic depictions of economic activity from the fifteenth to early seventeenth centuries. His research interests include literary history, the ‘new’ economic criticism, as well as gender and sexuality studies.  This paper on early modern stage depictions of consumption comes from his book in progress.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Julian Yates - March 28

"Invisible Ink; or, The Allure of Orange"

Friday, March 28th * 3pm
Rome 771
801 22nd St NW
Washington, DC 20052

Please join us next Friday as Julian Yates gives a talk drawn from his project on the lives and agency of oranges, sheep and yeast:

In 2002, I published an essay titled “Towards A Theory of Agentive Drift: Or, A Particular Fondness for Oranges circa 1597” that developed a way of modeling the event of a prison escape from the Tower of London that adapted philosopher Michel Serres and sociologist Bruno Latour’s understanding of agency as the product of a network of actors or actants. In this paper, taken from the section on oranges in my current book project, The Multispecies Impression, I return to this story as I read it now as part of an attempt to write “with” and “for” oranges, treating the texts authored by human persons as a strange kind of archive or impression left by the serial iterability or multiplicity that is orange and oranges. Ultimately, I am interested in the way this multiplicity or “orange-being” registers in the media specific forms that attach to or derive from the perceptual and cognitive limits of the human, and so in treating our discourses as a substrate on which oranges write—hence my title: “Invisible Ink: Or, the Allure of Orange.” 

Julian Yates is Associate Professor of English and Material Culture Studies at University of Delaware. He is the author of Error, Misuse, Failure: Object Lessons from the English Renaissance (University of Minnesota Press, 2003), which was a finalist for the MLA Best First Book Prize and What’s the Worst Thing You Can Do To Shakespeare? (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), co-authored with Richard Burt. He is currently writing The Multispecies Impression, a book that imagines our archives as the plastic, tropic remains of an on-going anthropo-zoo-genesis, the co-making of humans, other animals, plants, fungi and minerals. Research for this project has been funded, in part, by grants from the NEH, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the American Philosophical Society. He and Richard Burt are also hatching plots for a follow up Shakespeare book with the working title, Shakespeare’s Unread “Letters.”

A pdf of this poster is available for download here

Monday, February 24, 2014

Crush with Will Stockton and D Gilson

GW MEMSI and the GW Creative Writing Program invite you to
attend a reading by GW's own D. Gilson and Will Stockton of Clemson University.  They will be reading from their new book of poetry, Crush, published by punctum books

Thursday, March 6th
Honors Townhouse * 7:30pm

714 21st Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
Free and open to the public

In Crush, a stunning collection of erotic poems and queer meditations delineating Stockton’ and Gilson’s mutual crushing on each other, but also all of the ways in which, sweetly and also sadly, affection ameliorates the anguishes that, despite our deepest devotions, are never constant, Stockton and Gilson write,
In Aranye Fradenburg’s words, Shakespeare’s sonnets describe “the love you feel for inappropriate objects: for someone thirty years older, thirty years younger. The kind of love that makes a fool, a pervert, a stalker out of you.” Let’s start here, for much of this description applies to Petrarchan conventions as well. Let’s start here, with this affective entrance into the poems and the impossibility of dispossessing the other’s voice in the manufacture of one’s own machine. Let’s start here, with a vision of poems as indexes of crushes rendered inappropriate, unhealthy by some gradation of difference and level of intensity. With the question of what distinguishes a crush from love if both turn you into a different self.
Will Stockton is Associate Professor of English at Clemson University. He has written a lot about about how people in the Renaissance had sex. D. Gilson is a PhD candidate in English at The George Washington University. He has written a lot about how hipsters have sex and are always disappointed.

Download a pdf of the event poster here

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Spring 2014 Events

Happy New Year! We hope you join us for these upcoming events. More information will be added, so watch this space, subscribe to our email list by emailing Haylie Swenson, and like us on Facebook

Friday, Jan 31st 
“Asia in the Making of the New World”
2:30 – 4:30 pm Rome Hall #771

Professor Chi-ming Yang, Dept. of English, University of Pennsylvania

More information here

Thursday, February 20th
"#Altac / #Postac: Rethinking the PhD Job Search in the Humanities"
Rome Hall 771  4-6 pm
A roundtable discussion with:
Alyssa Harad, PhD in English & Author
Meredith Hindley, PhD in History & Writer/Editor/Historian at Humanities, the magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities
Miriam Posner, PhD in American Studies/Film Studies and Coordinator and Core Faculty of the Digital Humanities Program at UCLA
Evan Rhodes, PhD in English and Executive Adviser, Corporate Executive Board
Sarah Werner, PhD in English and Digital Media Strategist at the Folger Shakespeare Library

Free and Open to the Public
Sponsored by the GWU department of English, the Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute, the Digital Humanities Institute, and the Office of the Graduate Dean of Columbia College

Friday, February 21st
"Perfumed Letters"
Friday, 2/21/14 * Marvin Center 301 * 11am -1pm
A roundtable discussion on perfume & literature with:  
Emily Friedman, Assistant Professor of 18th Century English literature (Auburn)
Cheryl Kruger, Associate Professor of 19th Century French literature (UVa)
Alyssa Harad, author
Jane Shore, Professor of English & Poet
Free & Open to the Public

Sponsored by the Wang Endowed Fund in English Literature and Literary Studies *The French Program in Language & Literature & the Department of Romance, Germanic, and Slavic Languages & Literatures * the Program in American Studies at George Washington University

Saturday, February 22nd
A Reading with Alyssa Harad
Saturday, 2/22/14 12:30-2pm
Free & Open to the Public
The National Museum of Women in the Arts
5th floor Performance Hall
National Museum of Women in the Arts
1250 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC 20005

Sponsored by the Wang Endowed Fund in English Literature and Literary Studies and the Department of English at George Washington University.

Thursday, March 6th
Crush with Will Stockton and D. Gilson
A reading from their new book of poetry from punctum books, followed by a book signing
Free and open to the public
Honors Townhouse * 7:30pm
714 21st Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052

Sponsored by GW MEMSI and the GW Creative Writing Department

Friday March 28
Julian Yates (University of Delaware) "Invisible Ink; or, The Allure of Orange"
A lecture with Q&A
Rome Hall 771  3-5 PM
801 22nd St NW 
Washington, DC 20052

AND stay tuned for more information on these events:
  • April 8: Derrick Higgenbotham (University of Cape Town), "On Wasting Wealth: Conceptions of Consumption on Early Modern Stages"
  • April 29: "From History to Science in the Early Modern World," a symposium.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Global Shakespeares Symposium, Jan. 24th and 25th

Please join us for the Global Shakespeares Symposium on Jan 24th and 25th. 

The “Global Shakespeares” symposium at George Washington University seeks to explore Shakespeare through the lenses of world markets and archives. Performances of Shakespeare in different cultural contexts are changing the ways we think about scholarship and globalization. In this symposium, practitioners and scholars will challenge audience members to approach the postnational spaces and fluid cultural locations in many global Shakespeares.

Presentations will explore the promise and perils of political articulations of cultural differences and suggest new approaches to performances in marginalized or polyglot spaces.

Featured speakers include film director Julie Taymor, actor Harry Lennix, and leading scholars in the field including Thomas Cartelli, Ayanna ThompsonAdele Seeff, Sujata Iyengar, Christy Desmet, Eric Johnson, Richard Burt, Jeffrey Butcher, Kendra LeonardAlexa (Alex) Huang, and Amanda Bailey.

The full schedule is available on the symposium's website

The event and the book exhibit are free and open to the public, but we ask that you please REGISTER SEPARATELY FOR EACH DAY if you plan to come to both days.

  • RSVP for Friday January 24, 2014

  • RSVP for Saturday, January 25, 2014
The Symposium is co-sponsored by MEMSI, the George Washington University Digital Humanities Institute, Dean's Scholars in Shakespeare Program, Department of English, and the Gelman Library.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Asia in the Making of the New World

Happy New Year! 

Please mark your calendars for our first event of 2014, which is sponsored by GW's British and Postcolonial working group and which will happen on Friday, January 31st, 2014, from 2:30 to 4:30 pm in Rome Hall #771.  This event is co-sponsored by the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, the English Department, and the Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute. The questions this lecture will ask about race, trade, commodities, and the prehistories of globalization are certain to be exciting and rewarding.  Looking forward to seeing you there!

“Asia in the Making of the New World”
Professor Chi-ming Yang, Dept. of English, University of Pennsylvania

January 31, 2014, 2:30 – 4:30 pm
Rome Hall #771

How did the Asian luxury trade shape new representations of race in Europe and the Americas? By the mid-1600s, the demand for Chinese and Japanese luxury goods was shaping Western tastes across the Atlantic world, and the drive to replicate these commodities spurred numerous innovations in the arts and sciences, in particular, techniques for coloring and coating surfaces.  The marvelous, glossy veneers of China trade porcelain and lacquer also provided new media for portraying indigenous peoples of the Americas.  Fantastical chinoiserie designs often juxtaposed ethnographic details from travel accounts ranging from Florida to Brazil, rendering consumable the very idea of the global and aestheticizing the violence endemic to long-distance trade.  How were bodies racialized through their association with Eastern luxury goods?  How did Asian decorative art and ornament feed emerging discourses of slavery, complexion, and racial difference?  By tracking the circulation of images of native peoples, plants, and animals between and across different media, we can better understand how an eighteenth-century aesthetics of race relied upon new technologies of representing and understanding a globalized world. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Contact Ecologies

Please join us for our next big MEMSI event, a day-long symposium with a keynote by Timothy Morton and presentations by Bruce Holsinger, Anne Harris, Kellie Robertson, and Steve Mentz. Although this event is free and open to the public, we need accurate numbers and ask you to please RSVP here

Contact Ecologies
Friday, November 15, 2013
Marvin Center 310
800 21st St. NW
Washington, DC 20052
11:00am - 5:30pm


11:00 – 12:30: Bruce Holsinger and Anne Harris 
Session Chair: Haylie Swenson, GWU

“Ecologies of the Archive”
Bruce Holsinger is professor of English at the University of Virginia.  His books include: Music, Body, and Desire in Medieval Culture: Hildegard of Bingen to Chaucer (Stanford 2001), The Premodern Condition: Medievalism and the Making of Theory (Chicago 2005), Neomedievalism, Neoconservatism, and the War on Terror (Prickly Paradigm/Chicago, 2007), and the forthcoming The Work of God: Liturgical Culture and Vernacular Writing in Britain, 550-1550 (Chicago).  His first novel, A Burnable Book, will be published by HarperCollins (UK) and William Morrow (US) in 2014. He is currently finishing up a book called Archive of the Animal: Science, Sacrifice, and the Parchment Inheritance, which explores the parchment record of the Western tradition.

“Eco-Echo: Acoustic Ecology and Crusader Contact”
Anne Harris received her PhD from the University of Chicago with a dissertation about stained glass in medieval and modern popular culture. She is now professor of Art History at DePauw University where she teaches courses on gender, race, class, sexuality and ecology in medieval art. She writes about the reception and perception of medieval art with an emphasis on its materiality and presence. Publications on stained glass, the Roman de la Rose, actual and virtual pilgrimage, and medieval devotional images made of alabaster, wood, and ivory continue to shape questions about the experience of medieval art. She blogs at and writes for the Material Collective at

12:30 – 2:00: Lunch 

2:00 – 3:30: Kellie Robertson and Steve Mentz
Session Chair: Lowell Duckert, West Virginia University

"Nature versus Ecology"
Kellie Robertson teaches at the University of Maryland. She is the author of The Laborer’s Two Bodies: Labor and the ‘Work’ of the Text in Medieval Britain, 1350-1500 and co-editor (with Michael Uebel) of a collection of essays entitled The Middle Ages at Work: Practicing Labor in Late Medieval England. Her current book project, Nature Speaks: Medieval Literature and Aristotelian Natural Philosophy, examines late medieval poetry in the context of its physics, arguing that both domains struggled over how to represent nature in the wake of Aristotelian science.

“Epochal Contacts”
Steve Mentz is Professor of English at St John's University in New York City. His work on the ecological and oceanic humanities includes the book At the Bottom of Shakespeare's Ocean (2009), many journal articles, and a gallery exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library, "Lost at Sea: The Ocean in the English Imagination, 1550-1750" (2010). He also writes about narrative romance, media technologies, and the poetics of swimming. His most recent publication is the co-edited volume, *The Age of Thomas Nashe: Texts, Books, and Trespasses of Authorship in Early Modern England* (2013), and he is currently completing a book on shipwreck and ecological globalization from Shakespeare to Defoe.

4:00 – 5:30: Timothy Morton

Timothy Morton is Rita Shea Guffey Chair of English at Rice University. He is the author of Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Minnesota UP, 2013), Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality (Open Humanities Press, 2013), The Ecological Thought (Harvard UP, 2010), Ecology without Nature (Harvard UP, 2007), seven other books and ninety essays on philosophy, ecology, literature, food and music. He blogs regularly at

Please email Haylie Swenson ( with any questions, and we hope to see you there!