Cogut Institute for the Humanities
Center for the Study of the Early Modern World

ORBIS: 2019-2021 Report

Despite the ongoing challenges of the past years, this was a time of transition and dynamic transformation for the center which has now grown to incorporate some 60 Faculty and Associate Members, making it one of the largest units in the humanities at Brown. 


January 2022

With the generous support of the Cogut Institute, it has been possible to pursue a range of interdisciplinary initiatives. Many activities have been organized in connection with our three-year program of lectures and events, "Remarking Boundaries," which has involved scholars, writers, and artists who have taken borders for their topic of inquiry, whether those borders seek to delimit territories, disciplines, or more fundamental orientations.

The series was launched in 2019 by the historian and author Carrie Gibson’s lecture on the forgotten Hispanic history of the U.S. Other exciting contributions to date have included Shahzad Bashir’s talk on the significance of Persian chronicles in early modern India; Eugenio Menegon’s exploration of the role of women as sponsors of Jesuit missions in China; Anne Dunlop’s investigation of the cultural transfer of gold from Gothic Italy to Cattelan’s America; Gary Cestaro’s analysis of same-sex desire in Dante; and Andrés Eichmann’s rehabilitation of lost literature from colonial Charcas, now Bolivia.

The center is sustaining Brown’s longstanding association with the Folger Institute and Library in Washington DC. In November 2019, a Folger Faculty Seminar, "The Visual Art of Grammar," was held at Brown for the first time. We have also had successful collaborations with other local and national institutions, including the John Carter Brown Library, the New England Renaissance Conference, and RISD. In conjunction with the Department of History of Art and Architecture, we hosted Jessica Stair as a Cogut Institute Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow. The Hay Library has generously continued its partnership with the center and Kenneth Molloy who was appointed as a Hay Library Fellow for 2020–21 organized a memorable symposium, "Performing Objects and Objects of Performance," drawing imaginatively from the Hay collection.

The 2020–21 academic year has proved productive and fulfilling, with a number of activities scheduled, many exploring new media and formats. The program began with a lecture by Connie Scozzaro entitled "Love Is the Drug: Sex, Pharmacology, and Early Modern Feminism" followed on October 7 by a talk from Nick Jones of Bucknell University: "Staging 'Habla de Negros' in the Iberian Early Modern." A special series of presentations aimed at graduate students and early career scholars began in 2021: The Early Modern World in United States Libraries and Collections: Orientations and Opportunities. This has featured rich and informative presentations from the Folger, the Newberry Library, and the Benson Latin American Collection at UT-Austin. In 2022 we plan to showcase the facilities and holdings of other institutions, including the John Carter Brown Library.

Such programs of scheduled events are only a small part of what the center has achieved: our members have been energetic in pioneering research, developing innovative courses and many other scholarly endeavors.

Graduate students play a vital part in the intellectual life of the center, bringing their talents and interests to a wide range of activities. The Early Modern World Graduate Colloquium, led last year by Dominic Bate, continues in 2021–22, under the direction of Isa Farias Velasco and Emily Hirsch. One of our recent graduate members, Erika Valdivieso who won the 2020 Joukowsky Dissertation prize, has recently been appointed as assistant professor in the Department of Classics at Yale.

The center was originally developed in 2017, from a longstanding undergraduate program at Brown. Relaunched as Early Modern World Studies, this specialized cross-disciplinary program attracted an unprecedented number of concentrators in 2020–21. For 2021–22 the program will have more concentrators than ever before (in either its past or present incarnation ...). We are continuing to develop our provision of an adventurous range of classes and seminars, better to reflect the diversity and complexity of early modern societies, histories, and traditions.

It is a matter of pride that the pioneering, inclusive, and interdisciplinary ethos of the Center for the Study for the Early Modern World is now gaining recognition beyond Brown, and it is a positive development that other institutions are now following our lead. Last year, for example, Harvard University launched an Early Modern World initiative which is consonant with our own. The exciting prospects for collaborations and competition in the future mean that there is much to be done, and much to look forward to in the years ahead.