"Historiography and the Written Record"

Saturday, 11am - 12:30pm

306 Wheeler

Moderator: Tim Hampton


Rachel Eisendrath (University of Chicago)

Petrarca’s 1341 Letter from Rome: Inarticulacy and Historical Contingency

In his famous 1341 letter from Rome, Petrarca describes climbing onto the Baths of Diocletian to contemplate the ruins of the Eternal City with a friend. Writing about the experience later, Petrarch finds that he is unable to articulate the thoughts he shared with his friend on that day:

You ask now that I repeat and commit to a letter what I said that day. I said many things, I confess, that if I desired to say with unchanged words, I could not. Return to me that place, that leisure, that day, that attention of yours, that natural bent of my talent: I will do what I could do then. But all things are changed…

Petrarca’s claim of inarticulacy is part of the letter’s larger investigation of historical knowledge. This inarticulacy helps him to transfer the location of historical knowledge from the realm of objectivity into the shifting circuit of human relationships. Knowledge of Roman history turns out not to be a constant commodity, not something that Petrarch can merely repeat, as the depersonalized description of Rome in the letter’s opening ekphrasis might have led us to believe. Petrarca’s claim of inarticulacy is important because it suggests that knowledge, like intimacy, exists within human relationships and is reflective of—and vulnerable to—conditions that depend on unique contingencies.

Rachel Eisendrath is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago, where she is completing a dissertation on Renaissance ekphrasis that examines the interrelationship of literary form and concepts of history.


Elizabeth A. Terry (UC Berkeley)

Printing and Intellectual Life in Early Christian Granada

When the Catholic Kings entered Granada in 1492, they encountered a city and a society which had been Muslim since the eighth century and under Nasrid rule for over 200 years. Many Muslims fled to North Africa, though some stayed in the city and became a part of new Christian Granada. In this paper, I will be examining the intellectual life of early Christian Granada through its printing and educational records. The first bishop of Granada, Talavera, commissioned a number of publications for the purpose of reaching the morisco population with the Christian gospel, including a Spanish-Arabic grammar book, missals and other language tools. Humanist works by Nebrija, and Juan de Mena were also published there during this time. In my paper I will be exploring the nature of an intellectual Renaissance in a city which had experienced no Christian Middle Ages, which is problematic for both history and historiography. The presence of the Moriscos, the foundation of a new university, and the arrival of the Inquisition to the city all helped to create a unique intellectual environment which may or may not be able to be explained or understood by looking at the printing records alone, because of the gaps and silences they contain. 


Sarah Connell (Northeastern University)

Between “True Histories” and “Poetical Romances”: Geoffrey Keating and the Role of Fiction in Seventeenth-century Irish National History

In writing his history of Ireland, Geoffrey Keating sought to accomplish two largely incompatible goals: to produce an account of Ireland’s past that would be acceptable by seventeenth-century humanist standards and to collect and preserve as many of Ireland’s ancient traditions as possible, providing, as the title indicates, a foundation of knowledge on Ireland (in Irish Foras Feasa ar Éirinn). Because many of Keating’s sources recounted narratives that – due to their heroic, mythical, or legendary elements – did not fit into a humanist mold of national history, Keating’s work reveals the choices he made regarding if and how to include these narratives. Between Foras Feasa’s preservationist and historiographic impulses, one can find a number of silences and half-utterances, as Keating adapts, suppresses, and revises narratives from his source texts, many of which would have been familiar to his readers. This paper will explore Keating’s exclusions and adaptations of Irish traditional materials, arguing that Keating often allowed his source texts to speak through his elisions of their more fantastic elements, in order to produce a version of Ireland’s past that was generically recognizable as history, and yet preserved many of Ireland’s generically non-historical accounts of the past. The challenges faced by Keating, in addition to his strategies for working with heroic materials in a historical text, were also encountered and adopted by many other early modern historians in Ireland – and an examination of Keating’s text reveals important intersections between fact and fiction in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century historical texts.

Sarah Connell is in the Ph.D. in English program at Northeastern University, where she is currently working on a dissertation examining the use of literary genres in sixteenth-and seventeenth-century British and Irish national histories. Her research interests include early modern British and Irish historical texts, medieval Irish voyage tales, and comics studies.