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Mimesis on Trial

a one-day conference organised by the Centre for Early Modern Studies, University of Oxford

T.S. Eliot Lecture Theatre, Merton College, Oxford

Saturday, 20 May 2017

What is the connection between verisimilitude as a literary device and its legal use in the credible narration of facts? How do we construe the relation between the marvellous and the probable? What do early modern notions of likelihood and verisimilitude look like, if accounts of real-life criminal trials cite miracles and divine interventions as discoverers of the truth? Early modern Europe saw new modes and criteria of evidence-evaluation emerge, as new criminal codes and judicial systems were established. How has the work of social historians, directing us to ‘fiction in the archives’ affected how literary critics see the shaping of probability – of discoveries, denouements, trial outcomes – in early modern prose fiction and drama? How does recent scholarly work on the importance of oaths and binding language, on witness credibility, on inquisitions, jury trials, on the rhetorical criteria of suspicion and on the circulation of news affect current thinking about literary and dramatic narrative? Can we revisit, in this context, Auerbach’s conception of Western literature’s achievement as supremely mimetic, as representing ‘the entire human individual’?

Registration is now openBooking for dinner closes 10 May 2017. 

Conference Programme:

8.30-9.00 Registration and coffee.

9.00-9.15 Welcome and introduction: Natasha Simonova and Lorna Hutson

9.15-10.15 Keynote: Justin Steinberg (University of Chicago)

‘Mimesis on Trial: Legal and Literary Probability in Boccaccio’s Decameron

10.15-10.30 Break – coffee and tea

10.30-11.45 Panel 1: Credibility, Oaths and Evidence 

Edwina Christie (Oxford), ‘Credible Calumny in Mid-Century Prose Romance’

Jennifer Hough (Liverpool Hope), ‘An examination of modes of proof and evidence in All is True

Richard Stacey (Glasgow), ‘“You are not oathable”: Mimetic Vowing and Female Operativity in Middleton’s More Dissemblers Besides Women'

11.45-12.00 Break – coffee and tea

12.00-1.15 Panel 2: The Legal Imagination

Andrew Zurcher (Cambridge), ‘Bad Luck Spenser: Deodand, Mimesis and Materiality in The Faerie Queene

Simon Stern (Toronto), ‘Legal Fictions, Probability and Artifice in Early Modern England’

Rachel Holmes (Cambridge), ‘“To pluck a truth out of partiality”: Romeo and Juliet, Law and Mimetic Adaptation’

1.15-2.15 Lunch

2.15-3.30 Panel 3: Realism Effects

Sophie Duncan (Oxford), ‘“Lords gather round baby”: “fake” babies and real affect in Early Modern Drama’

Laura Wright (Oxford), ‘Aural Evidence: doubtful sounds in Webster’s tragedies’

Jackie Watson (Independent Scholar), ‘Shaking pens and ravishing justice: the mimetic effects of epistolary evidence’                       

3.30-3.45 Break – coffee and tea

3.45-5.00 Panel 4: Figurations of Reality

Zoë Sutherland (St Andrews), ‘The figuring of reality as self-given law in Ben Jonson’s readings of Boccaccio and Quintilian in The Devil is an Ass

Rebecca Beattie (Oxford), ‘The Works of Baltasar Gracián: Reality on Trial, but Who Makes Up the Jury?'

Michael A. Heimos (Oxford), ‘Preacher, Playwright, Poet, Spy’

5.00-5.15 Break – coffee and tea

5.15-5.45 Panel 5: Being There

Ros Ballaster (Oxford), ‘Being There: The Debate over Mimesis and Presence in the Eighteenth Century Theatre and Novel’

5.45-6.00 Closing remarks

6.00 Wine reception on lawn (weather permitting)

7.30  Dinner (Saville Room, Merton College)

The Araignement Burning of Margaret

Cultures of Collecting, 1500-1750

a one-day conference organised by the Centre for Early Modern Studies, University of Oxford

Wednesday 14 June 2017, Corpus Christi College, Oxford

On the 400th anniversary of the birth of Elias Ashmole, we invite proposals that address any aspect of the cultures of collecting in England and Europe, ca. 1500-1750, from any disciplinary perspective, including material culture, art history, visual studies, museum studies, social history, and literary scholarship. Papers might focus on major early modern collectors (Hans Sloane, Elias Ashmole, John Tradescant Jr and Sr), but also lesser-known figures. What were the motives and mechanics of collecting? How did early moderns understand curiosity and preservation; wonder and taxonomy; variety and system? What was the relationship between utility and display? How did Wunderkammern shape and transmit new categories of knowledge? What were the links between cabinets of curiosities and book collections and libraries? How did the practices of collecting shape broader cultural trends? How do literary texts respond to collecting? Is there a connection between collecting objects and the circulation and gathering of commonplaces; between gathering things and gatherings words (or literary invention)? What were the relationships between collecting, biography, and self-expression? How ideological were collections, and how was the politics of collecting expressed and understood? What are the methodological challenges of reconstructing collections today? How can we read catalogues and textual records of now-dispersed collections?

Please send 300-word proposals for a 20-minute paper, and a brief CV, to Dr Natasha Simonova ( by 10 April 2017.

Ole Worm's Museum

Digitizing the Stage: Rethinking the Early Modern Theatre Archive

Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

CFP Due 9 April 2017

The Bodleian Libraries and the Folger Shakespeare Library will convene a conference from 10-12 July, 2017, on digital explorations of the early modern theatre archive. We are interested in applying approaches from other disciplines, genres, and time periods which can prompt new thinking about the ways we preserve, describe, research, and teach the early modern stage; as well as in hearing from early modernists who engage with their subject through digital means. Seeking to foster a spirit of collaborative experimentation, we invite proposals in the full range of project completion taking the form of 20-minute papers, as well as “lightning talks,” panel discussions, multimedia presentations, and others.

Invested in both material and method, Digitizing the Stage is a singular opportunity to consider the future of the early modern archive. Attendance will be limited to 100 participants, with registration opening in March 2017.

Submissions should relate to one or more of the following topics and themes:

* Materiality and methods

* Early modern theatre and film

* Working in audio, text, and image

* Performance and theatre history

* Challenges and experiments in the archive

* Digital archiving and cataloging

Proposals for conference papers, panel discussions, lightning talks, multimedia and interactive demonstrations should not exceed 250 words. Please include your name, contact information, academic affiliation (if relevant), and a brief biographical description including relevant interests. Submit proposals within the text of an email to

Proposals are due April 9th, 2017. Some fee waivers and travel bursaries are available; please enquire.

Digitizing the Stage is organized by the Centre for Digital Scholarship, Bodleian Libraries; the Folger Shakespeare Library; and Professor Tiffany Stern, Royal Holloway, University of London.


EAJS Conference: Jewish Books and their Christian Collectors in Europe, the New World and Czarist Russia

Christ Church
Blue Boar Lecture Theatre
22-23 May 2017

All are welcome to attend but registration is required by e-mailing 

Monday, 22 May
9.30 Welcome: Martyn Percy
9.35 Introduction: Jan Joosten
Saverio Campanini: New Evidence on the Formation of Francesco Zorzi’s Library in Renaissance Venice
Ilona Steimann: Forming a Hebraist “Canon” of Jewish Literature: German Hebraica Collections around 1500
Piet van Boxel: A Sixteenth-Century Censor and his Collection of Hebrew Books
Joanna Weinberg: The Library of Johann Buxtorf the Elder
Kasper van Ommen: ‘Je suis pauvre en tout, mesmement en livres’. Joseph Scaliger as a Book Collector of Hebraica
Benjamin Williams: Connections at Christ Church: Edward Pococke and his Copies of Maimonides’ Commentary on the Mishnah
Rahel Fronda: Jewish Books and their Christian Collectors: Christ Church Connections (Exhibition)
18.30 Reception: César Merchán-Hamann
19.30 DINNER

Tuesday, 23 May
Theodor Dunkelgrün and Scott Mandelbrote: Some Hebrew Collections and Collectors in the Colleges of Cambridge
Shimon Iakerson: Who Collected Hebrew Books in Czarist Russia and Why
Arthur Kiron: An Atlantic Hebrew Republic of Letters
Joshua Teplitsky: Encounters Beyond the Text: Christian Readers and Jewish Libraries

Mobility and Space in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe

23-24 June 2017
Radcliffe Humanities Building - University of Oxford

Organisers: Luca Zenobi (New) and Pablo Gonzalez Martin (Wadham)

Keynote speakers: Rosa Salzberg (Warwick) and Mario Damen (Amsterdam)

The application of spatial paradigms to the study of late medieval and early modern societies is now well underway. In contrast, the so-called ‘mobility turn’ has struggled to find its way from the social sciences to the humanities and particularly to disciplines concerned with the study of the past. This conference proposes to bring the two together by exploring how everyday mobility contributed to the shaping of late medieval and early modern spaces, and how spatial frameworks affected the movement of people in pre-modern Europe.

In focusing on these issues, the conference also intends to relate to current social challenges. The world is now more mobile than ever, yet it is often argued that more spatial boundaries exist today than ever before. The conference hopes to reflect on this contemporary paradox by exploring the long-term history of the tension between the dynamism of communities, groups and individuals, and the human construction of places and boundaries.

Prospective speakers are invited to submit proposals of no more than 300 words for 20-minute papers. Papers may engage with questions of mobility and space at a variety of levels (regional, urban, domestic) and interdisciplinary approaches are particularly encouraged.

Potential sub-topics may include, but are by no means limited to:

  • Performing space through movement (urban processions, revolts on the move, border patrols & frontier trespassing)
  • Mobile practices in public spaces (itinerant courts & diplomatic exchanges, periodic markets & temporary fairs, travelling performances)
  • Narrating movement, imagining space (pilgrimage guides, merchant itineraries travel diaries, maps & portraits)
  • Digital scholarship in exploring the intersections between mobility and space (network analysis, flow modelling, GIS-based research)

We plan to edit a volume which will include selected papers from the conference.

Thanks to the generosity of our sponsors, we may also be able to provide some travel bursaries to PhDs and ECRs not in receipt of institutional support.

Please send your proposal and a brief bio by 1 February 2017 to & and tweet us using the hashtag #mobilityandspace.


The Book Index

A two-day conference organised by the Centre for the Study of the Book, Oxford

22-23 June 2017, Weston Library

Please see the conference website for programme and registration information. 


















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Prison/Exile: Controlled Spaces in Early Modern Europe

Ertegun House, University of Oxford, 10–11 March 2017

Conference website:

This conference seeks to explore the relationship between space, identity, and religious belief in early modern Europe, through the correlative, yet distinct experiences of imprisonment and exile. The organisers welcome all paper proposals that explore the phenomena of imprisonment and exile in the early modern period, especially those that relate these modalities of control to the complex and evolving religious thought of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe. At a time when incarceration or exile was a distinct possibility, even likelihood, for many of Europe’s innovative thinkers, how did the experience of imprisonment or banishment influence the texts—theological, political, and literary—produced in the early modern period? How did early modern individuals inhabit, conceptualise, and represent “unfree” space? How does the spatial turn help us to investigate the impact of the confines of prison or the exile’s physical separation from their community on the production and development of religious thought? Does imprisonment or exile exaggerate polemical language and heighten sectarian differences, or induce censorship and temper dissenting voices?

We invite 20-minute papers, from literary, historical, theological, and interdisciplinary perspectives, on these themes. We are especially interested in papers connecting imprisonment and exile, and in those linking physical spaces with the world of ideas and texts. The organisers, Spencer Weinreich, Chiara Giovanni, and Anik Laferrière, look forward to receiving proposals, particularly from postgraduate students and early career researchers, and are glad to answer any queries. Proposals should include a title and abstract of a maximum of 250 words, and should be sent to by 9 January 2017.



The Idea of a Life, 1500-1700

Friday 17 June 2016
Centre for Early Modern Studies at Oxford University
MBI Al Jaber Auditorium, Corpus Christi College

Idea of a Life Conference Poster

What was a life in early modern England and Europe? What patterns and templates were used to sort, sift, organise and represent experience? How were models for a life produced and reworked? How was a life evaluated, in terms of various sorts of good — moral, spiritual, civic, familial, economic? What were the moments, and what were the processes, by which a representation of a life was circulated? Are Burckhardtian models of the birth of Renaissance individuality and depth still useful to describe early modern culture, or do we need new paradigms? If much recent early modern work has been organised around ideas of networks, coteries and communities, how has the idea of a life been revised? If autobiography is often seen as a nineteenth-century form, what kind of pre-history does it experience in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? How has the turn to the archive reformed our sense of early modern lives? For scholars today, what is the status of biography as a way of organising analysis of the period?



9.30-11 Chair: Adam Smyth

Lucy Munro (King’s College London), ‘Rewriting Lives: Beaumont and Fletcher in the Archive’
Lotte Fikkers (Queen Mary University of London), ‘Finding lives in legal records’
Will Tosh (Shakespeare’s Globe), ‘A hidden romance in Elizabethan public life’

11-11.20 coffee

11.20-12.50 Chair: Rhodri Lewis

Steven Zwicker (Washington University, St Louis), ‘Imagining a Life: Dryden Dwells Among the Ancients’
Kate Bennett (Oxford), ‘Brief lives and eccentricity: Shaftesbury's life of Henry Hastings’
Niall Allsopp (Oxford), ‘Rituals of Transition: Porches and Thresholds in Early-Modern England (A Case Study in Robert Herrick)’

12.50-1.30 lunch

1.30-2.30 Chair: Valentina Caldari

Lori Humphrey Newcomb (University of Illinois), ‘“Hor Nam is Frances”: A Book Collector Writing Her Life’
Felicity Heal (Oxford), ‘Reconciling godliness, learning and peculation: the diaries of Richard Stonley, Teller in the Elizabethan Exchequer’

2.30-2.45 Coffee

2.45-3.45 Chair: Rhodri Lewis

Merridee L. Bailey, (The University of Adelaide), ‘The Meek Life’
Olivia Smith (Oxford), ‘Controlling experience? Early modern science writing’

4-5 Chair: Lyndal Roper

Victoria Van Hyning (Oxford), ‘Early modern English convent autobiography’
Laura Casella (Udine), ‘“Things worth noting down and remembering” for a woman of the sixteenth century: individual and family life in the diary of Venere Bosina’

5-6 wine reception

6.30 Dinner for speakers (Quod).



Moral Authority and its Critics, 1500-1700

Seventh Annual Conference, Centre for Early Modern Studies (CEMS), Oxford
MBI Al Jaber Auditorium, Corpus Christi College
Saturday 23 May 2015

Moral Authority Poster

For the duration of the sixteenth century in Europe, the governance of human affairs was the province of “moral philosophy” (sometimes called “practical philosophy”). Humanist teachers and students assembled this body of doctrine around Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Cicero’s De officiis (“On Duties”), and divided it into the three interlocking parts of ethics (concerned with the governance of the individual), oeconomics (concerned with the governance of the family or household), and politics (concerned with the governance of the state). This model was pervasive, united tradition and practical common sense, and married religious and civic ideals of virtue. And yet, by the beginning of the eighteenth century, to learn about the theory of governance meant turning not to “moral philosophy” in the round, but to works of ethics or politics written by the likes of Descartes, Hobbes, Malebranche, Spinoza, Locke, or Shaftesbury. Although steeped in the culture of humanism, such writers appealed not to the authority of an Aristotle or a Cicero as the starting point for their enquiries, but to human affairs as they saw them.

The purpose of this conference is to track and to interrogate the nature, longevity, and eventual demise of humanist moral philosophy. How do the changing contours of moral philosophy reflect the encounters of the confidently worldly humanism of the earlier sixteenth century with various kinds of novelty or innovation? For instance, with the anthropological and cultural discoveries of the “new world”; with the changing place and status of women and of women writers; with demographic change and social unrest; with the legitimation of rebellion against established monarchs; with the perceived threat of Machiavellianism and reason of state; with the exclusivist claims of religion to define the limits of moral existence; with renewed attention to some of the knottier moments in ancient history; with Stoic, Platonic, and Epicurean visions of morality; with a fresh determination to explore the “self” as something integral and not as a socially sanctioned part to play within the drama of life. What other prompts to change should be addressed? Did, for instance, the new philosophy make it harder to claim “natural” authority for received notions of morality? What about the relationship, never straightforward, between moral philosophy and the law? What happens to oeconomics? And why is that we now so readily associate moral philosophy with ethics alone? 

Papers will evince all disciplinary approaches, working comparatively and across specific national/regional/linguistic traditions. Topics of enquiry will include the printing, circulation, and teaching of Ciceronian and Aristotelian texts; the humanist character of even the boldest attempts to shrug off moral philosophical tradition; the relationship between moral philosophy and other parts of the humanist intellectual-philosophical synthesis; the engagement with or criticism of moral philosophy in drama, poetry, or prose; the relationship between literary or historical and more theoretical approaches to moral philosophy; the relationship between conduct manuals and changing concepts of moral philosophy; the relationship between social, cultural, and political contingency and the so-called “general crisis” of the seventeenth century; the relationship between “high” and “low” cultural concepts of moral integrity.


Anna Becker, Daniel Carey, Karen Collis, Felicity Green, Paulina Kewes, Rhodri Lewis, Ian Maclean, Sarah Mortimer, Jon Parkin, Jonathan Patterson, David Harris Sacks.



Scholarship, Science, and Religion in the Age of Isaac Casaubon (1559-1614) and Henry Savile (1549-1622)

University of Oxford's Centre for Early Modern Studies 6th Annual Conference

T.S. Eliot Theatre, Merton College
Tuesday 1st - Thursday 3rd July 2014

Plenary speaker: Anthony Grafton (Princeton)

Participants: Rhiannon Ash (Oxford), Philip Beeley (Oxford), Paul Botley (Warwick), Matteo Campagnolo (Geneva), Andrea Ceccarelli (Padua), Ingrid de Smet (Warwick), Mordechai Feingold (Caltech), Robert Goulding (Notre Dame), Nick Hardy(Cambridge), Scott Mandelbrote (Cambridge), Jean-Louis Quantin (Paris), Paul Quarrie (Maggs Bros.), André-Louis Rey(Geneva), Thomas Roebuck (UEA), Richard Serjeantson(Cambridge), Robin Sowerby (Stirling), Gilbert Tournoy (Leuven), Benjamin Wardhaugh (Oxford), Jan Waszink (Utrecht), Joanna Weinberg (Oxford), David Womersley (Oxford).

Scholarship Science and Religion Poster

The conference is co-organized by the University of Oxford (David Norbrook), the University of East Anglia (Tom Roebuck), and the California Institute of Technology (Mordechai Feingold).

Henry Savile (1549-1622) and Isaac Casaubon (1559-1614) were two contrasting giants of late humanism. Savile, Warden of Merton College, Oxford, was a key figure in the history of English science and a formidable presence on the English scholarly and political scene, whose translation of Tacitus led to political controversy and whose editio princeps of Chrysostom in Greek won admiration across Europe. Casaubon, perhaps the leading Greek classical scholar of his generation and a great correspondent within the intellectual exchanges of the Republic of Letters, used his scholarship to become a formidable Protestant polemicist, publishing a vast philological critique of the authorized Catholic ecclesiastical history of Cesare Baronio.

Their lives and works raise questions at the heart of contemporary interdisciplinary early modern studies: what was the relationship between philological scholarship and religious polemic? How did philology shape early modern science? How did scholars from across the Republic of Letters communicate with one another? And how did those communications shape their works? What and how did they read? What records of their reading are preserved today in annotated books and manuscript notebooks? How did scholars and political elites interact with one another? What was the impact of scholarship upon literary style and genre? Why and how did scholars encounter Hebraic learning?

2014 is the 400th anniversary of Casaubon's death and the 750th anniversary of the foundation of Merton College, the institution which Savile shaped. Our conference brings together, for the first time, a group of leading scholars from around the world and across disciplines to celebrate this occasion by exploring their lives and works, and, in turn, showing how these figures help us to answer vital questions about the world of late humanist erudition and science. There will also be a small exhibition at the Bodleian Library to accompany the conference.


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