Skip to main content

Abstracts: Spaces of Knowledge

Carol Pal (Bennington College)
Ephemeral Academy: Female Scholars at The Hague in the 1630s


As new scholarship continues to demonstrate, knowledge does not just emerge – it is produced. And while ideas may not possess bodies, the people originating these ideas certainly do. Thus those persons, with their ideas, inhabit a physical space. Even in the abstract republic of letters, based on the circulation of correspondence, physical circulation was equally important, as scholars arranged face-to-face meetings as often as possible. So although the ideal was to transcend borders of all kinds, knowledge in the republic of letters always bore the imprint of its location. And in the 1630s, the Queen of Bohemia's exile court in The Hague constituted one of those extra-academic locations. Geographically, culturally, and intellectually, it was an environment perfectly suited to these learned encounters. Thus a community of knowledge based primarily on circulation – the republic of letters – coalesced at one particular locality in time and space. One can readily see the difficulties inherent in placing learned women in this picture. Women in the seventeenth century circulated in a circumscribed way. In terms of lettered circulation, they certainly engaged in correspondence, but appear to have published very little, especially in the area of scholarly works and polemics. And in terms of physical circulation, it is true that some did travel; most, however, did not; and with the exception of salons, the "privileged places" of learning were off limits to them. Or were they?

This paper argues that since these female scholars lacked the supportive environment of the university, they used the physical location of the exile court in The Hague as both a locus of association, and a site for learning and mentorship. Extant evidence for intellectual women at the exile court documents a scholarly exchange on the most current concerns of the republic of letters. And what makes these conversations surprising is that they show us the supposedly all-male republic of letters functioning in a dually-gendered way. Female scholars were engaging with the world of ideas as participants, colleagues, and mentors, eschewing the more familiar roles of hostess, patron, or acolyte. For the four women who will constitute the primary focus of this study – Anna Maria van Schurman, Marie du Moulin, Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia, and Dorothy Moore – the exile court became a space for knowledge production. Together, they exemplify a formerly unnoticed and somewhat counterintuitive community; a network of female scholars who were simultaneously members of the republic of letters.


Simon Werrett (University of Washington, Seattle)
Fireworks and the Geography of Art and Science


Early modern fireworks fascinated audiences as exotic spectacles of fiery effects, as dreadful incendiary weapons of war, as strange and surprising products of alchemy and magic, and as models of Nature and even God’s operations. In this paper I use the history of fireworks to present a
geography of art and science in early modern Europe. Historians from Edgar Zilsel to Pamela H. Smith have argued that craft practices helped to shape natural philosophy in the ‘Scientific Revolution’ by providing technical resources for experimenters, encouraging an empirical approach to knowledge-making, and focusing scholars on utilitarian goals. Comparing interactions between pyrotechnic artisans and natural philosophers in three locations - London, Paris, and St. Petersburg - during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, this paper will argue that while art did indeed influence science, there was signficant geographical variation in these relations. Furthermore, the circulation of practitioners between these different locales changed the nature of relations between artisans and natural philosophers, and gave rise to both new forms of art, and new forms of science. Instead of a single, defining influence of art on science in the seventeenth-century ‘Scientific Revolution’, then, this paper will claim that a more reciprocal, geographically varied, and ongoing relationship has existed between art and science since the early modern period.