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Early modern vulnerabilities – A workshop with Professor James Kuzner (Brown University)

Human vulnerability may seem like a universal condition, but it is also profoundly shaped by historical and social contexts. The study of early modern vulnerability has been spurred by literary scholars who have identified the role of precarity, risk, and loss in shaping constructions of the self (e.g., Kuzner 2011; Sanchez 2011; Joseph Campana 2012; Nazarian 2016). So too have cultural historians begun to problematize how vulnerability was harnessed in the early modern period (Binczewski 2020) as well as how it can be adopted as a critical lens through which to access the emotional landscape surrounding historical events (Dunan-Page 2021).

This workshop invites participants from across the field of cultural history to explore vulnerability’s place in early modern literature, the history of emotions, care theory, and disability studies. What do literary representations of vulnerability share with representations from other domains? Can literature think distinctively about vulnerability? Do early modern ideas about vulnerability resonate with more contemporary theorizations?

How, for instance, does the vulnerability that we find in Katherine Philips’s seventeenth-century friendship poems compare with what we find in both an early modern context (for instance, in Montaigne’s “Of Friendship”) and a more contemporary one (for instance, in Derrida’s Politics of Friendship?). How, likewise, might we compare Milton’s seventeenth-century poetic representations of blindness to early modern theological understandings of blindness as well as Georgina Kleege’s Sight Unseen?

This cross-disciplinary workshop will be led by Professor James Kuzner, a literary scholar from Brown University (USA) who has published widely on Shakespeare, literary form, and early modern women writers. Kuzner is a leading expert in the field of early modern vulnerability studies. The workshop will be conducted in seminar format and will require active participation from all attendees. While participants will be encouraged to share their insights in terms of how the topic relates to their own research questions, the primary purpose of this workshop is to gain new knowledge and ideas.

This workshop will be open to max. 15 RMA students and PhD candidates who are, in the first instance, members of the Huizinga Institute or ASH (the Amsterdam School of Historical Studies). Priority will be determined on the basis of relevance to the applicant’s own research via a motivation statement in the application process. The workshop is expected to be of particular interest to those working on early modern literature and women’s writing, as well as topics related to early modern embodiment, and the history of emotions.

The workshop will be followed by Kuzner’s public lecture on King Lear and early modern representations of disability. The public lecture will be open to all members of the wider community and it is expected that workshop participants will attend as a condition of receiving ECTS. This lecture will include a Q&A opportunity for the audience and will be followed by an informal drinks reception.

 Indicative programme

11-12.30p.m. – First part of the workshop

12.30-1.15p.m. – Lunch

1.15-3p.m. – Second part of the workshop

5p.m. – Public lecture and Q&A followed by an informal drinks reception

Learning aims and outcomes

The pre-reading will provide an introduction to conceptualizations of vulnerability (both early modern and contemporary) and will acquaint participants with trends and debates in the field. The chosen readings will facilitate active participation in the workshop. In the workshop participants will have the opportunity to hone analytical skills in historical and literary analysis, interpretation, and argumentation both through formal analysis of literary texts and through comparing and contrasting representations of vulnerability across fields and periods.

The workshop will provide the opportunity for interdisciplinary knowledge sharing and collaboration. Participants will be expected to have completed the preliminary reading in order that they may fully participate in this interactive learning environment. The post-workshop written assignment will ask participants to reflect on knowledge acquired in the workshop and make connections to their own research projects.

The workshop, lecture, and social event will collectively create a rich and stimulating intellectual exchange with Professor Kuzner and offer the opportunity for new national and international connections.

Assessment and assignments

Indicate the components of assessment, e.g. presentation, preparatory assignments, final assignment, presence in class. Please provide clear conditions for obtaining ECTS

1 ECTS available on the following conditions:

  • Completion of preliminary reading provided by Professor James Kuzner
  • Attendance at both the workshop and the public lecture
  • Completion of a 750-word reflection on what participants have learned and how these ideas could relate to the development of their own research projects (marked on a pass/fail basis)

(Preliminary) Literature:

Preliminary literature will consist of: short poems by Shakespeare, Philips, Milton, Donne and others; early modern philosophical and theological considerations of vulnerability by Calvin, Montaigne, Elyot, and others; and short excerpts of contemporary theorizations of vulnerability by Butler, Derrida, and Kleege.

Registrations will open early September