Rogues and Vagabonds Kick Off Mellon Early Modern Group's 2011-2012 Events

Fall’s first rainstorm did nothing to deter early modernist scholars attending the inaugural event of the Mellon Research Initiative in Early Modern Studies. Despite the wet weather, a large and diverse group gathered last week at Putah Creek Lodge to hear Ari Friedlander, Mellon Visiting Assistant Professor of Early Modern Studies, present “Promiscuous Generation: Sex, Beastliness, and Social Status in Early Modern England.”

Delving into pamphlets depicting the criminal and sexual behavior of “rogues” and vagabonds in the turbulent sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Friedlander argued that these texts represent rogue sexuality as contributing to social unrest in early modern England.

The event drew scholars of English, history, comparative literature, Spanish, music, French, and more, and questions ranged from topics such as the influence of literary forms developing across Europe during the early modern period to political and social contexts. English professor and Mellon Initiative co-director Margaret Ferguson noted, “In the discussions that emerged tonight, we can already see interesting potential collaborations for historians and literary scholars.” Kari Durgan, a PhD candidate in English, agreed: “Within this one talk, we see many different points of intersection.”

Also attending were Jessie Ann Owens, dean of the Division of Humanities, Arts, and Cultural Studies and principal investigator for the Mellon Research Initiatives; Humanities Institute Interim Director Beth Levy; and the Initiative’s newly-hired administrative assistant Lisa Carvajal.

Associate Professor of English and Mellon Initiative co-director Gina Bloom declared the event a success, citing the outstanding paper and significant interdisciplinary turnout. “We have a great group of people here tonight from many different disciplines,” said Bloom. “It’s an indication that the initiative is doing what we wanted it to do, and we look forward to more of the same throughout the coming year.”

Interdisciplinary collaboration is exactly what the initiative is intended to foster. Funded as part of a major grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for Mellon Research Initiatives in the Humanities, the group will host speakers from around the nation and the world for discussions about cutting-edge research in the field of early modern studies. Graduate students will be able to take advantage of the Mellon Graduate Fellows program, and the group has just launched its website, which will serve as a crucial point of contact for early modern scholars scattered across the Davis campus.

Ferguson hopes that the website will serve as a way to circulate information about early modern concerns and that it will remedy some of the logistical difficulties facing those attempting to do interdisciplinary scholarship.

A centerpiece of the Research Initiative in Early Modern Studies will be a series of conversations featuring distinguished scholars. At each event, two scholars will present views on a shared topic from different disciplinary perspectives. On November 3, Ann Rosalind Jones, Esther Cloudman Dunn Professor of Comparative Literature at Smith College, and Peter Stallybrass, Walter H. and Leonore C. Annenberg Professor in the Humanities and Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, will discuss “Suspicious Illustrations.” Jones will present “Past and Present in Costume Books: Anachronism, Moralization, and Suspicious Reading,” while Stallybrass will present “Image Against Word: Why Illustrations Don’t Illustrate.”

Winter quarter’s discussion, tentatively titled “Abducting Reputation,” will feature Leslie Peirce of NYU, a scholar of the early modern Ottoman Empire, and Kathryn Schwarz of Vanderbilt University, a scholar of early modern England, who share a focus on gender, honor, and abduction.

All of these events will enliven conversations about the early modern period and will enhance an already distinguished record of early modern scholarship at UC Davis, according to Bloom.