Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Studies

Early Modern Circle


Charlotte-Rose Millar -
Catherine Kovesi –
Julie Robarts -

The Early Modern Circle is an informal, interdisciplinary seminar group open to interested students, academics and researchers. Drinks are provided and a gold coin donation helps to make this possible.

The group meets at 6:15 on the third Monday of the month, unless noted otherwise below.

To be added to the mailing list, please email Andrew Stephenson - andrewws@

Archive of past papers.

Programme for 2015

March 16

Seminar Room 506, Level 5, Babel Building

Dr. Gordon Raeburn (University of Melbourne)

The Plague, Fear and Death in Early Modern Scotland

This paper investigates the links between the plague, in terms of both the fear of the plague and the physical manifestation of the plague, the death and burial of those afflicted by the plague, and communal and personal identity in the towns and cities of early modern Scotland. The paper looks at the communication and spread of information and rumour concerning plague, attempts to prevent the spread of the plague itself through various means, including barring entry to the towns and cities to strangers, and the threat of death to those strangers and those who harboured them.

This paper also investigates those who had died of the plague, as they were almost always buried outside of the locations reserved for Christian burial in the early modern period, and this certainly would have affected the identity of these individuals in death, in the eyes of their loved ones, and the community at large. If these individuals were of some significance to the community as a whole, or if the numbers of those killed by the plague were particularly high, this may have affected the community’s own sense of identity, and this paper will investigate the extent to which this was actually the case.

Dr Gordon Raeburn is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Centre for the History of Emotions at the University of Melbourne


April 20

Seminar Room 506, Level 5, Babel Building

Dr. Andrea Rizzi (University of Melbourne)

The Renaissance of Anonymity 

Recently published studies of literary anonymity have variously challenged scholars of Renaissance literature, history and music to rethink how they use and interpret the early modern Anon. This new rethinking can assist literary scholars, musicologists and historians in comprehending premodern anonymity. In this paper I aim to broaden the debate around anonymity beyond the confines of English literature and to establish a common ground within Renaissance studies. The central question addressed in this paper is whether the attention of scholars facing early modern anonymity should be placed on the concealed name and whether their energies are best served by trying to unmask its concealment. I suggest that the challenge is not to ask what early modern Europeans kept secret, but rather to investigate the communicability of these anonymous acts. 


May 18

Seminar Room 506, Level 5, Babel Building

Dr. Catherine Kovesi (University of Melbourne) 

Guns ’N Roses: Fruits of the Hunt and the Inauguration of Doge Leonardo Donà dalle Rose

In 1605 Leonardo Donà dalle Rose was elected the 90th doge of the Venetian Republic. Known for his religious devotion and restraint, Leonardo is reputed not to have wanted an inaugural banquet and to have muted the usual feasting associated with major celebrations in the city. However, research in the family’s private archives reveals that, whatever his private thoughts about feasting, from the moment he was elected, Leonardo was drawn into a ritual of hunts and feasts that soon took up an inordinate amount of his dogal duties. This paper, part of a much wider new research project on the Donà dalle Rose, seeks to tease out these feasts and their significance in the broader ritual life of the city.


June 25 (Note change of date)

Niall Atkinson, University of Chicago

Two Bells, a Rock and a Hammer: Sound and Silence in Renaissance Florence

At one end of the Renaissance urban auditory spectrum was the urban regime of ecclesiastic and civic bell ringing, whose dense interconnected and repetitive cadences reverberated throughout all of medieval Christendom, organizing social life, regulating economies, and binding communities to the buildings and spaces they inhabited. At the other end of the spectrum was the largely unregulated noise of labour and urban oral sociability. Whether it was politically motivated citizens trying to read behind the official pronouncements of the government, merchants bent on acquiring economic information, conspirators, public pacts, burdened animals, market hawkers, mechanical labourers, or professional storytellers singing to boisterous audiences, the chaotic noise of civic life was also dense with meaning. It is in the acoustic dialogue between these extremes where the soundscape of Renaissance Florence can teach us a great deal about how urban space and time were structured, how contemporaries derived meaning from the built environment about themselves and their past, and how listening to the noises a city made was a critical social skill.

Four stories – two about bells, one about a rock, and another about a hammer – provide the basis upon which the relationship between sound and silence, bodies and space, can be productively investigated for the ways that the meaning of urban space is often an acoustic construction.

Niall Atkinson is the Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of Art History and the College at the University of Chicago
Situated primarily in Italy, Atkinson's current scholarship considers the social dimensions of architecture through a series of research themes derived from his interest in the historical understanding of urban experience. His book The Noisy Renaissance: Sound, Architecture, and Urban Life in Early Modern Florence will be published by Pennsylvania State University Press.


July 27

Seminar Room 506, Level 5, Babel Building

Dr. Francesco Borghesi (The University of Sydney)

Peace and Concord as Ideals in Fourteenth-century Italy

This paper analyses some political and religious uses of the concept of philosophical concord mostly in Thomas Aquinas, Dante Alighieri, and Ambrogio Lorenzetti, and addresses the function and spread of concord as an aspiration between the thirteenth and the fourteenth centuries in the Italian peninsula. Understanding it as political friendship and common good, as well as an aspiration to peace, it also looks at the diffusion of the Latin term concordia as deriving from the Greek homonòia.


August 17

Seminar Room 506, Level 5, Babel Building

Professor Anthony Bale (Birkbeck, University of London)

Mount Joy: An Emotional History of a Landscape

In the Middle Ages, it was customary for pilgrims to Jerusalem to gain their first glimpse of the city from the hill of Nabi Samwil, a few miles north of Jerusalem. Here, pilgrims record various ceremonies, including dismounting from their horses, kissing the ground, weeping and ecstasies. The mountain was named, by the western pilgrims, Mount Joy, explicitly putting emotion into the landscape. In my paper today, I will offer my work-in-progress on thinking about the contexts and the cultural resonances of Mount Joy. My research shows that the idea of the Mount Joy was taken from western Europe - in particular from Paris, Rome and Santiago - to Crusader Palestine, in a culture of valorised mountaintop viewing that demands we think carefully about premodern histories of mountains, of vistas and of emotions.

Anthony Bale is Professor of Medieval Studies at Birkbeck College in the University of London.  He is working on the late medieval English experience of the Holy Land and is currently a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Centre for the History of Emotions.


September 21

Seminar Room 506, Level 5, Babel Building

Dr. Daniel Derrin (2015 S. Ernest Sprott Fellow, University of Melbourne, and Macquarie University)

The Laughable, Persuasiveness and the Early Modern Moral Imagination: The Renaissance Commentary on Roman Comedy

How exactly was early modern humour a means of persuasion? Scholars have explored what early modern people found laughable, and its power to change things, by giving attention to jest books, rhetorical handbooks, poetics manuals and the writing practices of comedy and verse satire. There has been recurrent interest in the points at which ‘serious’ ideology intersected with ‘non-serious’ humour. However, much of our understanding has been developed along structuralist lines. A long scholarly tradition sees the humour of the period as an opportunity for subverting the social structure. On the other side of that coin, some scholars more recently have wanted to emphasize the means by which the higher class laughed at (and therefore policed) the lower, or how patriarchy ridiculed women.

In my research as an S. Ernest Sprott fellow during 2015 I have been examining some of the understudied Renaissance commentary on Plautus and Terence for the light it may shed on those issues. This paper presents some of the findings of that research. It explores the possibility of questioning a structuralist picture of laughter in the period as merely anarchic or conservative. Such a formulation tends either to overstate humour’s power or reproduce the serious/non-serious binary. I shall focus on where the (moral) imagination figures in the period’s debates about Roman comedy. What access can we have to early modern ideas, expressed through comedy, about the ethos or moral philosophy that we (often too simply) label ideology? Commentators suggested that the laughable embodied a distortion of what could be imagined as a good life. Very often the rhetorical construction of laughable distortion reflected an entirely normative set of moral ideals. But did it always? Comedies themselves were routinely defined as a kind of mimesis with a happy ending envisioning reconciliation and social harmony. Could comedy’s engagement of the moral imagination add something fresh to our understanding of how early modern humour appropriated to itself serious persuasive power?

Daniel Derrin is currently Junior Research Fellow at Durham University, and a research fellow at Macquarie University. In 2014-15 he held the S.Ernest Sprott Fellowship fellowship from The University of Melbourne, carried out at the Warburg Institute in London where he was studying texts from the European commentary tradition on Plautus and Terence.

He is also an Associate Investigator with the Centre for the History of Emotions, Meanings stream, specialising in the literary culture of early modern Europe, with particular interests in the discourses of rhetoric and of humour, and in the writing of Shakespeare, Francis Bacon and John Donne.


October 19

Seminar Room 506, Level 5, Babel Building

Dr. Lisa Beaven (University of Melbourne)

The Chapel of the Rosary in Santa Sabina, Sassoferrato’s Madonna of the Rosary and the Confraternities of the Rosary in Rome

While the rosary was a medieval rather than early modern invention, nonetheless it changed and adapted during the baroque period to play a crucial role in Post-Tridentine religious practice and ritual. It is the rosary’s ability to reshape social structures through the confraternities that I am interested in exploring in relation to emotional communities. It was a form of prayer that blended both vocal (recitations) with mental (interior meditation) aspects. Furthermore, it was a form of worship that reinforced connections between liturgy and visual culture. Chapels belonging to these confraternities, often located in larger churches, contained major paintings on the theme of the Rosary. Many were placed on or just above the altar table itself so that the priest and congregation could readily see the images during the celebration of the Eucharist. One such painting was Sassoferrato’s Madonna of the Rosary, painted for the rosary chapel in Santa Sabina. Sassoferrato’s painting was painted for a new kind of Catholic, one whose identity was increasingly shaped by ‘sensuous worship’, championed by the Jesuits and made famous by the use of the imagination in the meditative techniques espoused by Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises. I intend to explore the iconography of such paintings, along with the extensive printed record of Rosary confraternities, to study the links between sensory immersion and emotional response.

Dr Lisa Beaven is a postdoctoral research fellow with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions and is based at the University of Melbourne. Her research interests are  concentrated in the area of patronage and art collecting in seventeenth century Rome, on the architecture and urbanism of the city, and on the nature of visual culture and the Catholic church in early modern Europe. Other research interests include digital mapping, travel writing, relics and the relationship between Catholicism and antiquarianism in the seventeenth century. Her book An Ardent Patron: Cardinal Camillo Massimo and his artistic and antiquarian circle: Claude Lorrain, Nicolas Poussin and Diego Velazquez was published by Paul Holberton Press, London, and CEEH, Madrid in 2010. 


November 16

Seminar Room 506, Level 5, Babel Building

Dr. Heather Dalton (University of Melbourne)

Discovering the Women in the History of Discovery: Sebastian Cabot abd the Conquistador’s Widow

In June 1521 Catalina Medrano’s husband was killed while fighting with Cortés in Mexico. Within two years, she had married Sebastian Cabot, Seville's Pilot Major. Cabot is known for his role in Bristol's early Atlantic voyages and, over half a century later, the founding of the Muscovy Company. Little is known of the period he spent in Seville with Medrano before her death in 1547. If mentioned, Medrano is generally dismissed as 'a domineering shrew' – a description based on statements by Cabot’s enemies after his disastrous 1526 voyage to the River Plate.

In my paper I challenge the trope of the ‘difficult wife’ and demonstrate how Medrano's skills and her connections to those at the forefront of Atlantic discovery were crucial to her family’s wellbeing and to Cabot's career. I also discuss the fact that ‘discovery’ history is generally all about the men and that this is not always due to paucity of records relating to women. It appears that in the case of Medrano in particular, records were simply ignored and studies of Cabot, and the trading and knowledge networks that sustained him, suffered accordingly. 

Dr Heather Dalton is an ARC Discovery Early Career Research Fellow in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. Since completing her PhD in 2008, Heather has been associated with the universities of Melbourne and Sheffield and is a member of the Cabot Project in Bristol.


Previous Papers for the Early Modern Circle










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