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Early Modern Times – Winter King’s courses

Early Modern Times - Winter King's courses

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Dear readers,

Happy new year! 2019 marks 400 years since the coronation of Frederick V of the Palatinate (a small German state within the Holy Roman Empire) as King of Bohemia. This was a pivotal moment in the Thirty Years War (1618-48), which began with the second defenestration of Prague (as mentioned in the EMT post Prague-matic considerations) and ended with the Treaty of Westphalia. Instead of electing the Habsburg emperor Ferdinand II to the throne of Bohemia in 1618, the upstart Bohemians (who were, relative to jumping off the Papal See-saw, ‘bounced Czechs’) chose the Protestant Frederick. He was later nicknamed the ‘Winter King’, as his reign lasted only from the winter of 1619 to the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, a disastrous loss for the Protestant Revolt (the picture above is from a 1636 painting by Gerrit Honthorst of the supposed triumph of Frederick’s wife Elizabeth Stuart, the ‘Winter Queen’, accompanied by Frederick and their children–including Descartes’s later interlocutor and Platonic love-interest Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia). The snows may have been long in 1619-20, but his ‘reign’ was brief. Still, in 1619, what sorts of courses would have been served at the Winter King’s triumphal banquet? Why, anything that suited the Bohemian royal family’s ‘Palatinate’, obviously.

In 2019, what are the Winter King’s courses in EMSP? In addition to teaching the second half of EMSP 2000, Dr. Laura Penny assays an updated version of EMSP 3260, her seminar on Montaigne’s Essays and the modern self. Readers of the French essayist will know that he wrote on an incredible variety of subjects, including on the latest carpentry techniques (which is why he’s often considered a progenitor of the ‘modern shelf’), and on the mounds of soil created by small burrowing mammals: he could truly make a Montaigne out of a mole hill.

Carpentry is also a sub-theme of Dr. Kathryn Morris’s popular elective EMSP 2320: Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe, not only because (as we know from Monty Python and the Holy Grail) they’re made out of wood and thus weigh the same as a duck, but also because they were thought to be practitioners of widget- and winch-craft. Incidentally, this recent article reports the theory that the Salem witches of 1692 were suffering from anti-NMDAR encephalitis, as if this ‘explained’ the witch-trials (which as Dr. Morris teaches her students, can only be adequately understood in its complex social, gendered, and religious contexts). This latest hypothesis questions the 1976 theory of Linnda Caporael (a rather materialist scientist?) that the Salem witches displayed the symptoms of rye fungus–which at least explained why the witch phenomenon ‘mushroomed’ in the early modern period.

As well as the second half of EMSP 3000, Dr. Morris will be offering EMSP 2310: Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe, which may also probe into the secret plans (which they never ‘sheared’) of Renaissance shepherds, i.e., ‘woolmen’s agendas’ in the early modern period. Speaking of women’s studies, this curiously uninformative CBC radio interview discusses a new research project funded by a $2.3 million grant from the European Research Council which promises to shed ‘new light’ on early modern women’s writing, without actually explaining what this ‘new light’ might be given the already substantial and growing scholarly literature on the subject–thereby leaving radio listeners in the dark, alas.

Besides the second half of EMSP 4000, I’ll be robbing my students’ tuition dollars on the high seas (but only giving grades of high ‘Cs’) with a course on infinitely irrational but sexy taxes at 3.14159…%, EMSP 2480: The Pi-rate & Pi-racy. Dr. Kyle Fraser will offer EMSP 3321: In Search of the Philosopher’s Stone: The History of European Alchemy, which promises not only to detail the medical examinations undergone by Montaigne (known as the search for the philosopher’s kidney stones), but also to reveal the sect of esoteric crustaceans known as ‘hermetic crabs’.

In EMSP 2215: Violence and Wonder: Baroque Art, Dr. Jannette Vusich will analyse the light-and-shady but failing financial practices of such artists as Caravaggio, the Carracci, Borromini, Rubens, Rembrandt, Velázquez, and Poussin, and thus why they were ‘broke’ artists. She will also be teaching EMSP 3270: Leonardo da Vinci: Between Art & Science, including the ways this paradigmatic Renaissance artist was plagued by bullies as a youth and given insulting nicknames: because of his unhygienic habits (Leonardo da Stinky); his miserliness (Leonardo da Stingy/da Chintzy); his lack of enthusiasm during Christmas holidays (Leonardo da Grinchy); and most musically, his inappropriate swimwear (Leonardo da Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini).

Finally, a head’s up about the upcoming Early Modern Studies Students’ Society conference on Jan. 18-19, featuring student presentations, a keynote lecture by EMSP alumnus Chris Rice (McGill PhD Candidate), and an opening keynote lecture on ‘Patriarchy as Tyranny in Seventeenth-Century Venice’ from eminent scholar Prof. Marguerite Deslauriers, Department of Philosophy, McGill University. More details to follow!

‘Til next week,

Simon Kow

Director, Early Modern Winter King Studies Program


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