Monday, March 30, 2009

Lytton Smith Reading 4/3

Join us for what promises to be an exciting reading by Lytton Smith on Friday, April 3rd. His topic is "The Unending Medieval and the Edges of Poetry." The event will be held at GWU's Rome Hall 771 (801 22nd St NW) at 4 PM. Find out more information about our poet-lecturer and his latest book of poetry, The All-Purpose Magical Tent, at his blog.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Marcy Norton in the TLS

Check out the admiring review of GW MEMSI member Marcy Norton's Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures in the Times Literary Supplement. An excerpt:
Transoceanic commerce was a conduit for what the historian Alfred Crosby famously christened the “Columbian Exchange”. While new commodities such as the potato, tomato, avocado and peanuts transformed Europe’s palate, Old World animals, particularly pigs, horses and cattle, irrevocably reshaped the American landscape. The introduction of plants previously unknown in America, including sugar cane, set the stage for the rise of plantation agriculture, ushering in four centuries of chattel slavery.

Pathogens, too, played a ruinous part in this unfolding drama. Epidemics of smallpox, yellow fever and bubonic plague decimated Amerindian populations. As exchanges of agricultural products and infectious diseases had far-reaching demographic and gastronomic consequences, the encounter between Europeans and Amerindians forged a hybrid or mestizo culture. It incorporated elements of both civilizations. Intermarriage and religious syncretism were two of the most important manifestations of this process.

Marcy Norton’s engaging and well-researched history of tobacco and chocolate in the early modern Spanish Atlantic World explores one aspect of this broader Columbian exchange. Tobacco and chocolate were native to the Americas, unknown in Europe before the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Norton traces how the introduction of these New World plants altered patterns of consumption and sociability in Europe. She demonstrates that the European appropriation of these two Amerindian commodities never fully shed the symbolic associations they had in pre-Columbian America. Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures shows how the exchange between alien civilizations prefigured a revolution in taste that was both genuinely global and largely independent of the power dynamics of colonialism ...

What did it mean for Europeans, Norton asks, “to become consumers of goods that they knew were so enmeshed in the religious practices of the pagan ‘savages’ whom they had conquered?”. She argues that the popularity of tobacco and chocolate cannot be attributed solely to their addictive properties, but rather to their important place in the symbolic universe of the Amerindians with whom the conquistadors and settlers came into contact. As Norton points out, it was as a result of these encounters that Europeans “learned to hold a pipe, dip snuff, and scoop the foam off chocolate. They also learned when, why and what one should think when using novel substances”.

Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures is a scholarly work, but it is lucidly written and deserves a wide readership. Norton creatively uses a wide range of sources, from Mayan artwork to early modern medical manuals to Inquisition records to show how two frequently consumed substances were integrated into European consciousness and diet.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ricardo Padron @ GW

On Thursday March 26, Ricardo Padron, Visiting Professor of Spanish, will give a talk From the New World to the Whole World: Transpacific Mappings in the Hispanic World of the XVI Century. The talk will take place from 5:00 - 6:00 p.m. in the Academic Center (801 22nd St NW), Phillips 209. A reception follows.

Monday, March 16, 2009

GW MEMSI in the News

Check out the official press release:


Multi-Disciplinary Institute Focuses on Early Europe's Global Context

WASHINGTON - The George Washington University's newly created Institute for Medieval and Early Modern Studies brings together scholars and students in history, English, French, and Italian to foster new research and exchange ideas. The institute solidifies a rapidly building scholarly community and strengthens existing partnerships between GW and other organizations, such as the Folger Shakespeare Library, where GW students have access to the world's largest collection of Shakespeare materials and other rare works for study and research.

Inspired by the University's surroundings of Washington, D.C, the institute focuses on early Europe within an intercultural, transnational context. Its programs will prepare both undergraduates and graduates for advanced degrees through significant research projects and will illustrate the important role humanities research has in the world.

"Medieval and early modern Europe was influenced by a multitude of languages and cultures. Cities such as London were cosmopolitan, but they also were culturally complex places animated by international phenomena like war, commerce, religion, immigration, and colonization," said Jeffrey J. Cohen, professor and chair of GW's Department of English and director of the institute. "Cities, such as Washington, D.C., still struggle with these issues today. Having the institute in the center of the nation's capital, spurs us to think about the past in the context of our historical moment."

Gail Paster, director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, said, "GW's new Institute for Medieval and Early Modern Studies is cause for celebration. This period in European cultural history was formative of our own moment. We at the Folger Shakespeare Library look forward with great excitement to future collaborations with GW's faculty and students. The period's rich history, literature, and theatre continue to hold great interest for thoughtful Americans."

GW's Institute for Medieval and Early Modern Studies is the first major humanities initiative funded under the University's Research Enhancement Fund. Faculty members hope to host a major colloquium, regular research meetings, and an international conference, as well as publish publications. Topics of study include the slave trade and the circum-Atlantic; violence and cultural differentiation; consumption and trade; and the interactions among Christians, Jews, and Muslims. The institute also is supported by faculty and scholars from American University, Georgetown University, George Mason University, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Shakespeare Theatre, and the University of Maryland.

Beth Lattin, a GW senior and double major in English and math, said, "Learning about Shakespeare and medieval and early modern Europe can be daunting, but these programs give students a great hands-on approach, rather than just simply studying texts. Students who are interested in continuing their studies will find that the projects and exposure helps prepare them for future degrees and careers."