Even having entered into the endeavor with enthusiasm, we (Sonja Anderson, Pierre Hecker, Jessica Keating, Yaron Klein, and William North) were surprised by just how valuable and enjoyable it proved to be. The research circle met a total of 7 times in July and August, each time for no less than 90 minutes (though often it was 2 hours). It was, in our view, a success not just for the progress made on individual projects but also in terms of broader professional development. We all looked forward to and relished our meetings and the weekly pleasure of diving into the arcane corners of our various disciplines. And what a cornucopia it was! We learned about Daniel Fröschl’s work as an artist, antiquarian, and compiler at the Imperial Court of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II and the personal, political, and artistic meanings of his inventory of Rudolph’s Kunstkammer. From 16th century Prague we moved to 3rd century Carthage to consider “eucharistic disasters” and the parsing of Christ’s body in its various incarnations – flesh and blood, heavenly, and corporate – in Cyprian’s treatise De Lapsis. From there to Shakespeare’s London, to think about the transmission, reception, and semiotic meanings of physical gestures, traceable to Greek and Roman antiquity, on the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage. From London to 14th century Cairo, to contemplate the writings of Kamāl al-Dīn Abū Faḍl al-Udfuwī on the legal status and spiritual significance of music in Islamic mysticism, in particular percussion instruments and their place in both religious ceremonies and private celebrations. And finally, to 12th century Italy, to dive into polemical debates about monastic pastoral care via the private correspondence of the Italian Bishops Jacob of Faenza and Hildebrand of Pistoia.
Beyond the good company, collegiality, and the joy of professional dialogue, we also learned a great deal from the intimate view of each participant’s methodologies and ways of thinking. Along with the generalized pleasure of learning fascinating things about unfamiliar topics, we also grew from seeing how colleagues worked, how they approached and made use of their materials, how they came to their findings. We covered a lot of ground, from big picture issues of structure and central interpretive claims, to more granular attention regarding types of evidence, subtle argumentative moves, and matters of language and rhetorical framing. We ended the summer determined to keep meeting and excited to continue to be involved in the progress of everyone’s work.
Several of us began with clear goals for publication, and the feedback received has helped immensely not only in guiding how we need to develop and revise but in providing the collegial stimulus to focus and refine. North’s piece on the polemics over pastoral care will be submitted this month, for example.
We end on a note of gratitude to the Humanities Center for making possible what we came to see as a welcome and much-needed luxury: the ability to spend focused time on each other’s scholarship and in each other’s company, sharing, testing, and expanding ideas, and making significant progress in our scholarly work.