Upcoming Events

Friday, April 19th
Professor William Egginton, Dekker Professor in the Humanities, Johns Hopkins University

4:00 PM Lecture: Early Modern Artificial Intelligence,
Memorial Library, Room 126

As the world grapples with the promises and threats of AI, at the extreme ends of both wish-fulfillment and nightmare stands a common premise: the machine that not only follows instructions, but also chooses, invents, designs, and controls.

For some commentators, of course, we have already crossed that threshold. For others, we never will. While such disputes may entail different interpretations of today’s technological capacities, they are far more influenced by a lack of consensus concerning what we mean when we talk about human intelligence. And this is a debate that spans millennia.

While a thorough archeology of concepts like mind, spirit, soul—what is implicitly conjured by the promise or specter of thinking machines—would start at least with the ancient Greeks, early modern Europe provides us with a key moment and some vital protagonists in the story. In this lecture, William Egginton delves into a cross-cultural, transmedia conversation—involving thinkers and writers such as Llull, Cervantes, Descartes, Leibniz, and Kant—to unearth some of the basic problems and unspoken assumptions of today’s AI catastrophists and apologists alike.

William Egginton is the Decker Professor in the Humanities, chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, and Director of the Alexander Grass Humanities Institute at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of multiple books, including How the World Became a Stage (2003), Perversity and Ethics (2006), A Wrinkle in History (2007), The Philosopher’s Desire (2007), The Theater of Truth (2010), In Defense of Religious Moderation (2011), The Man Who Invented Fiction (2016), The Splintering of the American Mind (2018), and The Rigor of Angels (2023), which was named to several best of 2023 lists, including The New York Times and The New Yorker. He is co-author with David Castillo of Medialogies: Reading Reality in the Age of Inflationary Media (2017) and What Would Cervantes Do? Navigating Post-Truth with Spanish Baroque Literature (2022). His latest book, on the philosophical, psychoanalytic, and surrealist dimensions of the work of Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky, was published in January 2024.

Friday, April 26, 2024
Renaissance Hybridity:
Graduate Early Modern Student Society
Seventh Annual Symposium (CFP open)

UW–Madison Memorial Library Special Collections & Hybrid over Zoom
Keynote Speaker:

Early modern people were preoccupied with mixture at all scales. Controlled experiments in alchemy, botany, and animal husbandry attempted to mitigate concerns about the production of genetic difference and disability. Likewise, ideas from natural philosophy were also used to explore and police the nature of cross-class, queer, interracial, or interfaith relations within larger political bodies. At the level of early modern geopolitics, twin anxieties over foreign influence and geographical transplantation haunted European thought. Renaissance art, too, was a mixture of medieval cult images and the newly commodified art object, while early modern plays were figured as hybrids—or as monsters.

The Graduate Early Modern Student Society (GEMSS) at the University of Wisconsin–Madison invites papers exploring these issues to be presented at its seventh annual symposium. We seek to foster interdisciplinary dialogue among graduate students interested in early modernity, especially scholars working with odd objects and mulling over multiple methods. Possible areas of study include:

  • Art and Art History
  • Critical Race Theory
  • History
  • Gender and Sexuality Studies
  • Performance Studies
  • Disability studies and biopolitics
  • Science and Technology Studies
  • Literature
  • Political Theory
  • Trans* studies and Queer theory
  • Religious Studies
  • Book history

We are also soliciting volunteers for a special roundtable conversation on political activism, labour, organizing, or department organizing as an early modernist.

The symposium will be hybrid digital & in-person. We welcome submissions by scholars from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and fellow universities. Unfortunately, we are unable to provide travel funding for panelists. Presentations will be limited to 15-20 minutes and must be in English.

Past 2024 events

Upcoming 2023-24 Events

Tuesday, March 19th, 2024
Professor Chloe Ireton, Department of History, University College London

4:00 PM Lecture: Defining Freedom: Infrastructures of Black Political knowledge in the early Spanish Atlantic
University Club, Room 212

This talk explores the development of diverse infrastructures of Black political knowledge in the early Atlantic world. These infrastructures enabled Black individuals and communities across different regions of the Spanish empire to develop the know-how to navigate imperial power structures. In doing so, they expanded the meanings of political freedom in the Spanish empire and deployed discourses of political belonging that sought to position the Spanish crown and Catholicism as inclusive of Black people. The talk offers methodological reflections for writing histories of Black political thought in the early Atlantic world. The questions that animate these methodological reflections include: How did marginalized groups, including liberated or free-born Black Africans and their descendants, acquire legal know-how to craft petitions in royal courts?; What were the conversations and shared knowledge in particular sites that created the conditions for free-born, liberated, and enslaved people to develop resources and social capital to craft and submit petitions to the crown?; and, how can historians trace how people and communities learned about events and political discourses in faraway places and exchanged ideas and news in their daily lives that they later might deploy in their own petitions?

This event is sponsored by the Anonymous Fund, the Departments of History, Political Science, English, French and Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, LACIS, and UW-Madison Libraries

Censorship, Surveillance, and Disinformation: Center for Early Modern Studies Symposium

October 26-27
Memorial Library Room 126
With keynotes from Hannah Marcus (Harvard) and David Castillo (University of Buffalo)