Postgraduate Workshop Report from Prato

Postgraduate presenters at the recent Prato Consortium Workshop
Postgraduate presenters at the recent Prato Consortium Workshop

Samuel Baudinette reports on the recent Prato Consortium for Medieval and Renaissance Studies Postgraduate Workshop, held in Prato on 10 December:

On the 10th of December postgraduate students from across the Prato Consortium for Medieval and Renaissance Studies converged on the Monash University Prato Centre, in the magnificent Palazzo Vaj, in order to present on aspects of their research. For some of the students, it was their first chance to deliver an academic paper. For others it was their third or fourth. Represented were students who had just enrolled in a Doctoral or Master’s program, students who had been researching and studying for some years, and even students who were preparing their proposals and gathering materials for projects yet to begin. What all of them had in common, however, was the excitement and energy of the young academic with an innovative and groundbreaking question or point of view. As Peter Howard, Director of the Monash Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, remarked in his opening address, it is in postgraduate research that new and exciting perspectives can truly come to the fore.

In the first session the over-arching theme which became apparent was that of reception and communication. The day began with a fascinating paper from Monash University’s Luke Bancroft, in which he reflected on a series of manuscripts he had been examining in Florence which report a number of sermons delivered before the Papal Court in Santa Maria Novella in the fifteenth century. Next, Leila Zammar of the University of Warwick offered a wonderful paper which sought to understand how the staging of operas in Early Modern Rome assisted in the transmission to the populace of the theological and moral agenda of a ‘counter-reformation’ Catholic Church. The session concluded with a paper from Stephanie Jury of Monash University, who sought to understand the way that lay audiences in Florence received and understood the content of sermons through an examination of a sermon on predestination and its reportatio.

The papers in the second session could best be described as examining practices of reading, though reception and communication was still very present. Richard Calis, of the University of Amsterdam, began with an intriguing paper which examined the way that the poetry of Homer was interpreted in Early Modern Europe through a significant body of explanatory material, including marginalia and annotations in printed volumes. I followed, presenting a paper on the Dominican re-discovery of the importance of a particular Psalm, through their reading of Jewish sources, and its impact on discourse in the High Middle Ages on silence. The session was brought to a close by the enthralling report from Rocco di Dio of the University of Warwick on the anthological and philological concerns of the great Renaissance humanist and translator of Plato, Marsilio Ficino.

In the final session it was made abundantly clear again that the predominant theme of the conference was communication- this time in the context of social history. In the first paper, Natalie Lussey of the University of Edinburgh presented her ‘microhistorical’ account of the Venetian printer Giovanni Andrea Vavassore, which allowed her to reflect on broader themes in Venetian history, such as migration. In the paper which followed, Andrea Bonaguidi of Monash University gave an overview of the early stages of his examination of the Chronica of the Florentine merchant and sometime diplomat Benedetto Dei. He argued that through the careful use of emotional language, Dei was able to present a landmark event in Florentine history as a turning-point in the fortunes of the Republic. The final paper of the session, and the roundtable, was delivered by Jessica O’Leary of Monash University. In her paper, she explored the way that the epistolary exchange between the Duke of Ferrara and his wife, Eleonora d’Aragona, gives witness to the delicate negotiations which existed between political dynasties in Renaissance Italy and stands as a testament to the way that men and women of the courts could use letters to establish co-rulership. It, like the others, was a masterful paper.

The experience of presenting, as all the students agreed over lunch (and drinks), was invaluable. As Guy Geltner of the University of Amsterdam reflected in his closing remarks, the delivery of a paper in a conference setting is an important academic skill in itself, and requires as much thought and care as the crafting of one’s thesis. Not only that, but the opportunity to receive thought-provoking feedback and advice from one’s peers and from established academics more than outweighed the nervousness of standing before a crowd filled with illustrious and influential personages. Perhaps most importantly of all, the opportunity to begin to develop a network of postgraduate members of the Prato Consortium, which will hopefully reflect the academic network, has become a distinct and achievable possibility. We postgraduate members, through the exchanging of contact details and the promise to meet in the near future at conferences, have already begun.