Thursday, May 19, 2011

Call for Papers – The Senses in Early Modern England, 1485-1668 (21st-22nd October 2011)

A conference hosted by the London Renaissance Seminar, Shakespeare’s Globe and Birkbeck, University of London

Prof. Erica Fudge, University of Strathclyde (Keynote Speaker)
Dr Farah Karim-Cooper, Shakespeare’s Globe (Keynote Speaker)

“Why, then, your other senses grow imperfect /By your eyes' anguish” (King Lear, 4.5.5-6)

What did early modern subjects understand by the term “the senses”? What relationships and hierarchies were posited amongst the senses? How reliable were they in facilitating communication, understanding or knowledge? What kinds of sense experiences were implied in the production and consumption of texts in manuscript, print and performance?

There has been increased attention in early modern studies to various aspects of sense experience. Recent work is increasingly sensitive to the ways in which the senses were conceptualised at a particular historical moment, in terms of their relative significance, the physiological processes that they entailed, and the forms of experience and knowledge that they might facilitate for a subject. Such research foregrounds the importance of cultural context to sensory experiences, necessitating close attention to the particular ways in which early modern subjects both understood and experienced their own senses. This is visible in the posited ‘hierarchy of the senses’, and in the different understandings of the workings of the body and its relationship with the world; indeed, the place and nature of sensory experience in the relationship between outside phenomena and inner knowledge was central to the many epistemological questions being explored during the period. This conference aims to examine these culturally specific configurations and their importance to texts and performances; this importance is visible in many ways – in performance and reception at the theatre, in reading habits and indeed in conceptions of ‘reading’ itself, in the various ways in which senses appear in texts for rhetorical or other purposes, even in the relationships between the exterior, the body, cognition and selfhood explored in canonical texts of the period. We aim to bring together the latest research on this significant and critically current topic.

The conference will consist of a Friday evening postgraduate forum at Shakespeare’s Globe, and a day-long Saturday postgraduate conference at Birkbeck, University of London, with keynote papers from Dr Farah Karim-Cooper and Professor Erica Fudge. We welcome submissions in the form of 20 minute papers on subjects including, but not limited to, the following:

• Theoretical and practical understandings of the experience and/or functioning of the senses,
• How the senses appear in texts of various kinds,
• How understandings of the senses shaped theatrical practice in England,
• How such understandings may have shaped audience experience of drama,
• The various sensory experiences of reading ,
• Differing relations with the senses in different fields of artistic production,
• The relationship between the senses, cognition and selfhood,
• More recent theories of sensory experience/aesthetics and their relevance to early modern texts and contexts.

Please send an abstract of 250-300 words to Jackie Watson, Birkbeck College, at by Friday 24th June 2011, including your name, institution, position (e.g. PhD Student) and email address. We would also welcome joint submissions of 2-3 abstracts that could form a panel of 20 minute papers.


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