Early Modern Times – the divine right of bling (double issue)

Early Modern Times - the divine right of bling (double issue)

Dear readers,

This will be my last blog post for January, as I’ll be attending the Sixth Annual Conference of the Early Modern next week during my usual blog-writing time. You are all warmly invited to attend the conference as well: the link above will take you to a full schedule of the events on Jan. 26-27, from a keynote lecture on ‘Indigenous Representations of Europeans in the Sixteenth-Century Spanish Atlantic’; to student paper panels on the self, art, philosophy, romanticism, and sex; to a second keynote lecture by EMSP alumna Evany Rosen, author of the hilarious What I Think Happened: An Underresearched History of the Western World. These events are guaranteed to be far more stimulating and entertaining than the gathering of scholars on the effects of excessive annual rainfall on ground-soil, the Conference of the Yearly Sodden.

In these dull days of winter, we can soak up the rays not only of enlightenment from the upcoming conference, but also from contemplating the grandeur of the Stuart King Charles II, depicted above and part of an exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, as reported in The Guardian. Appropriately, the header on this webpage is a headless header, an echo perhaps of the fate of his father Charles I, executed in 1649. The orphaned son famously hid in an oak tree in Shropshire from Parliamentary forces in 1651, escaped to France, and returned to England at the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660. His reign was marked by the re-opening of the theatres after decades of Puritan rule, patronage of the arts and sciences, the building of some of the most famous landmarks in London after the Great Fire of 1666, and of course his endless appetite for extramarital sex–as indicated by at least 9 royal mistresses, 14 illegitimate children, and no legitimate offspring. This latter fact, along with his death-bed conversion to Catholicism, is linked to Charles’s defence of the succession of his zealously Catholic brother James upon his death in 1685, which would eventually lead to the Revolution of 1688: James fled, James’s daughter Mary and her husband William III of Orange were placed on the throne, and a Protestant succession as well as the rights of Parliament were later enshrined into the British constitution. In other words, Restoration England under Charles II could be regarded as the last gasp of an era in which the power of the Crown was unchecked by Parliament, and the culture of excessive indulgence included record sales of Swedish vodka: hence the so-called age of Absolut monarchy.

The monarchical grandeur of seventeenth-century England gave way to the commerce and global empire of eighteenth-century Britain. The union of Scotland and England in 1707 and the Protestant Hanoverian succession in 1714 may have triggered the Jacobite Rebellions of 1715 and 1745, in defence of the Stuart pretenders to the throne, but the eighteenth century also saw the flourishing of wealth and culture in Lowlands Scotland and thus the Scottish Enlightenment in the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. Scottish Enlightenment thinkers such as David Hume and especially Adam Smith are now regarded as the fathers of the science of modern economics. Smith is often invoked by defenders of free market economics, but as this article by Paul Sagar of King’s College, London (founded much later than the King’s in Nova Scotia, of course) argues, we would be well-advised to pay closer attention to what Smith actually wrote in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations of 1776: Smith’s defence of the free market governed by an ‘invisible hand’ was intended to counter not just mercantilist state policy, but also the power of merchant elites who sought an unfair advantage through monopolistic dominance of the economy. Thus it would be incorrect to enlist Smith on behalf of the unfettered power of large corporations. Smith’s thought has been distorted by the contemporary right (and left, for that matter); and the complexity of his ideas is further indicated by the question of how The Wealth of Nations is linked to his earlier, equally groundbreaking work on moral philosophy, The Theory of Moral Sentiments of 1759. Nor should we forget his attack on the vicious behaviour of silt, sand, gravel, and other deposits on the soil in his unpublished treatise The Theory of Immoral Sediments.

In our classes Jan. 22-Feb. 1: In EMSP 2000, Laura Penny will guide her students through the last part of Candide, Voltaire’s elegiac sequel to his earlier, optimistic novel Can-do; ponder the work of that seventeenth-century philosopher of people who cheat on their diets, Anne ‘Con-weigh’; and examine the questionable Ethics of the notorious public-relations guru employed by Dutch artisans of Italian topped flatbread, Benedict ‘Spin-o-‘za’.

Kathryn Morris will voyage with the students of EMSP 3000 around the world with Daniel Defoe’s famous novel about the offspring of a famous opera singer and the seductress in Mike Nichols’ 1967 film The Graduate, who sets out on seagoing adventures but ends up stranded on a desert island, Mrs. Robinson Caruso; and will journey to imaginary lands seeking markets for English mittens in Jonathan Swift’s satire Glover’s Travels. Her disciples in the dark arts of early modern witchcraft will learn about why Satan enjoyed sharing drinking boxes in her class on Tetra Paks with the devil, and about the leisure activities of female sorcerers on their day off, known as the witches’ sabbath. Finally, her Body in Early Modern Europe class will learn about sexing the body, monstrous bodies, and demonic bodies, thus going from corporeality to corpo-unreality.

Jannette Vusich’s course on the Renaissance Print turns to pictures of unscrupulous betting officials battered by swords made of tree-bark in her discussion of woodcut bookie illustrations, and morbidly contemplates depictions of late medieval central Europeans sliding into their coffins in her class on 15th-century German in-grave-ings. Students of Leonardo Da Vinci: Between Art & Science will examine the chronicles of Leonardo’s strange recipes for combining pub-food with maki sushi in a class on Renaissance nacho-roll history.

My students in EMSP 4000 will continue their consideration of Montesquieu’s 1748 treatise on how different political constitutions deal with the problem of being haunted by our spouses’ parents, The Spirit of the In-Laws, as well as how such spirits arise when one ex-Humes their corpses. The Pirate & Piracy course looks at the tough bearded pirates of the Islamic world, the Barb-ary Coarse-hairs, as well as that Elizabethan-Canadian privateer-turned-rapper, Sir Francis Drake. Finally, the Automatons lecture series will examine on Jan. 25 how older robots become senior citizens in Cornell University Professor Courtney Ann Roby’s lecture on ‘Ancient Automatons’.

‘Till February,

Simon Kow

Director, Early Modern Studies Program

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