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Sarah Parker

Scientific Community and Reading Publics in Seventeenth-Century England  


Thanks to the generosity of the Mellon Foundation and the support of the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance at the University of Warwick, I was able to spend two months in the United Kingdom conducting research related to the theme of Reading Publics in the Renaissance. In that time I traveled to the Rylands Library in Manchester, the Edward Worth Library in Dublin, and the Wellcome Library in London to conduct research for my project on scientific community in seventeenth-century England. I also contributed to the organization of a series of conference panels for the Renaissance Society of America annual meeting in 2014 related to the theme of Reading Publics and drawing together a community of scholars who began work on this project in 2012. In addition, my time at the University of Warwick corresponded with a number of conferences affiliated with the university and taking place both at Warwick and at the Warburg Library in London. I was able to attend and participate in these conferences, each of which related to my broader monograph project on Renaissance Aristotelianism and the history of medicine.  

My project on scientific community in seventeenth-century England developed from the workshop on Reading Publics in which I was fortunate enough to participate during the summer of 2012. My two months at Warwick in 2013 supported access to the university’s library and article databases for research as well as the space and time to write up the first of several articles related to that project. The article I worked on during the month of May is entitled “Coy Nature: The Poetics of Harvey’s Comparative Anatomy,” and discusses the “Ode upon Dr. Harvey” by the seventeenth-century poet and enthusiast of the new scientific method, Abraham Cowley. This article develops a paper I presented last fall at the Society for Literature, Sciences, and Arts, and it discusses the relationship between Harvey’s Aristotelianism and Cowley’s use of the poetic tropes of love poetry. I was also able to consult editions of Cowley’s and Harvey’s work in relation to this project at the Rylands Library in Manchester thanks to the generous support of this Mellon fellowship.  

My time at the University of Warwick with the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance also allowed me to devote a great deal of energy to organizing a series of panels on the theme of Reading Publics for the Renaissance Society of America conference in 2014. Being at the University of Warwick allowed me to be in direct contact with many of the scholars from the 2012 Reading Publics Workshop to solicit abstracts for this series of panels. I was also able to stay in close contact with faculty affiliated with the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance who helped to co-ordinate last summer’s workshop and who are chairing panel sessions for the RSA. I am especially grateful to Maude Vanhaelen, David Lines, Simon Gilson, Ingrid de Smet, and Eugenio Refini for their help and encouragement in this project. 

The Mellon Foundation fellowship supported the research necessary for my contribution to the Reading Publics conference at RSA 2014. My paper, “Constructing the Self through Paratexts in English Seventeenth-Century Scientific Polemic” will begin by looking at the paratexts to the six editions of the Pseudodoxia Epidemica published during the lifetime of seventeenth-century physician and scientific polymath Sir Thomas Browne. The Rylands Library in Manchester holds copies of all six of these editions, and I was able to consult them in a conveniently comparative way that was truly unique and helpful. At the Wellcome library, I consulted more copies of these editions, in all cases looking for evidence of seventeenth-century readership and response to the wonderfully strange Pseudodoxia itself. This material will form the foundation for my paper at the RSA, which I plan to see published in an edited volume with the other papers presented by my colleagues from the Reading Publics workshop.  

The Mellon funding also allowed me to visit a very special library in Dublin, the Edward Worth Library. This little-known treasure contains 4,400 volumes collected by the early eighteenth-century Irish physician Edward Worth. Worth was passionate about books and amassed a marvelous collection of early modern scientific and medical works that are also stunning examples of the history of the book. It was a treat to work at the library, and I am grateful to the Worth Librarian Elizabethanne Boran, whose knowledge of the collection and eagerness to share it made my time there incredibly productive. I focused in particular on works of William Harvey related to my article on Harvey and Abraham Cowley and on rare works by French physician and author François Rabelais and early modern French surgeon Ambroise Paré, figures I am writing on for my article on “Sex and the Vernacular Medical Manual: The Problem of the Publishing Practitioner in Sixteenth-Century France.”  

One of the most rewarding results of my Short-Term Mellon Fellowship was that it allowed me to join the stimulating academic community of the University of Warwick for two months. I especially enjoyed participating in four conferences, each of which represented the intellectual community and vibrant conversation that I have found so typical of the University of Warwick’s Centre for the Study of the Renaissance. The first of these conferences was “Renaissance Conflicts and Rivalries,” which touched on topics related to my work on medical and scientific debate in the Renaissance. The second conference, “Early Modern France in New Contexts” allowed me to meet a handful of fantastic French Scholars from the University of Warwick and from France. I also attended the conference “E Byzantia Florentiam Advolavit: Philosophy, Medicine and Demonology from Byzantium to Italy,” which introduced me to the work of a number of new scholars, and gave me the opportunity to meet University of Warwick classics professor, Caroline Petit, whose work on the Galenic corpus has close ties to my interest in the philosophical underpinnings of Renaissance medicine. The final week of my fellowship, I attended the final conference of the Vernacular Aristotelianism project, hosted by the Warburg Library. Participating in this conference was a wonderful opportunity for me, as I am excited about the work that the scholars of the Vernacular Aristotelianism project have been doing, but my location in the United States has heretofore prohibited attending the project’s conferences. The conference papers on Renaissance Aristotelianism were of particular interest for my work in early modern medicine. 

In the final two weeks of my fellowship, I was able to take advantage of the links between the University of Warwick Reading Publics program and the Newberry Library in Chicago to travel to the Newberry for a final burst of research and writing. The Newberry has an exceptional collection of rare materials and an especially knowledgeable and helpful library staff. Additionally, they provide an idyllic workspace for their fellows complete with personal carrels and long opening hours for fellows to continue writing and research in materials housed outside of the special collections even when the library and special collections are closed to the public. I was able to take advantage of this time to explore the Newberry’s collection of sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century accounts of the French Wars of Religion for my project on autobiographical writing, as well as consulting their collection of the seventeenth-century English scientific writings of members and enthusiasts of the Royal Society for my work on scientific community. It was also a delight to find myself in the fascinating city of Chicago for two weeks, and I enjoyed the opportunity to explore the city and to take an architectural walking tour. 

I am deeply grateful to the Mellon Foundation and to the University of Warwick’s Centre for the Study of the Renaissance for these opportunities to further my research and to follow up on the questions raised by the Renaissance Reading Publics workshop. I would in particular like to thank the faculty who have supported my work both in the Reading Publics workshop of 2012 and in the short-term fellowship of 2013, including Maude Vanhaelen, David Lines, Simon Gilson, Ingrid De Smet and Eugenio Refini. I am also grateful to Jayne Brown for her many hours of help.