2004 awards

Congratulations to the winners of Awards from the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women for work published in 2003! The award-winning works are listed below.

The Awards were announced at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women on October 29, 2004.

Book Award:

The Awards Committee selected two books in a tie for first prize, and would like to acknowledge the especially rich pool of publications which made for a difficult decision. The two finalists, Margaret Ferguson and Wendy Heller, most successfully took us into new areas of study with exceptional and well-integrated use of multi-disciplinary inquiry, challenging us to really look again at aspects of their respective subjects that we may have taken for granted.

Margaret W. Ferguson, Dido’s Daughters: Literacy, Gender, and Empire in Early Modern England and France. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

In this extraordinary study, Margaret Ferguson uses her remarkable and wide-ranging knowledge of early modern Europe and of recent critical theories to perform two impressive and inter-dependent tasks. In the first section of her two-part book, Professor Ferguson examines the various kinds of literaries whose traces may be found in documents from the early modern period. As she demonstrates how closely early modern ideas about what counts as literacy are tied to sometimes intersecting, sometimes competing, always arbitrary ideologies of gender, class, age, and nation, Professor Ferguson overturns many twentieth- and twenty-first century limited ideas about sixteenth- and seventeenth-century women’s participation in literary (and social) history. In the second part of Dido’s Daughters, Professor Ferguson then presents extensive case studies of writings by Christine de Pisan, Marguerite de Navarre, Elizabeth Cary, and Aphra Behn, each of whom was literate in more than one language, and each of whom implicitly and also explicitly critiqued the very national and literary histories in which she participated.

In the process of analyzing these four women’s work, Professor Ferguson makes manifest the point that gender is indeed an important category of historical analysis. At the same time, Dido’s Daughters makes clear the importance of women’s texts in all scholarship that aims at a full description of the early modern period.

Wendy Heller, Emblems of Eloquence: Opera and Women’s Voices in Seventeenth-Century Venice. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 2003.

Wendy Heller’s very readable book is important not only for its fascinating dissection of early Venetian opera, but for its probing into the very heart of how Venetians saw themselves in community, as a patriarchy, and as multi-gendered voices at a time when gender was a hotly contested issue for them. Through the lens of female eloquence on the Venetian opera stage, Heller looks across a wide range of cultural issues and interweaves them with matters of musical style and vocal empowerment unique to Venice. Opera was introduced to a Venetian public in the mid-seventeenth century that was steeped in critical debates about the role and value of women. Venetian aristocratic women, unlike women in other north Italian cities, were kept hidden away, de-voiced and excluded from public life, with the notable and paradoxical exception of the courtesan, who acquired the trappings of nobility even as she was allowed voice.. Heller examines the realities of Venetian women in conjunction with the histories of mythological women who became emblematic in opera. She looks to see how these mythological stories were manipulated and created musically to empower or emasculate both male and female characters on stage. She adds to the mix the multi-faceted practices for cross-dressing, transvestites and castrati who also populated early modern opera, and she generously considers literary debates and medical theories which infused opera libretti.

What is central to Heller’s argument is that gendered musical representations–who got to sing recitative, arioso, aria, florid singing, certain modes of singing–became hinge pins for operatic conventions we now take for granted. We are compelled to re-consider the very foundations for a musical genre whose roots were Venetian, and very much tied to what was considered feminine in a highly patriarchal culture.

Essay or Article Award:
Award winner:
Melinda J. Gough, “ ‘Not as myself’: The Queen’s Voice in Tempe Restored.” Modern Philology 101/1 (August) 2003: 48-67.

Queen Henrietta Maria, consort of Charles I of England, has traditionally been dismissed as a woman without taste whose theatrical productions were frivolous and devoid of aesthetic merit. Focusing on Tempe Restored, a masque the queen performed in and helped produce in 1632, Gough uses methodologies drawn from dance, theatre and music history, as well as intellectual history (notably studies of Renaissance cosmology) to argue for the work’s thematic coherence, ideological significance and dramatic value. Gough’s essay explores the probable influence upon Henrietta Maria of masques performed in the French court of her mother, Marie de Medici, demonstrates links between women’s masques and both preciosité and devout humanism, charts the innovative role of Tempe Restored in bringing professional women actresses to the English professional and court stage for the first time, and emphasizes the way this masque departed from convention in allowing the central character, the queen, to speak through a proxy. Gough concludes that Tempe Restored “celebrated to an unprecedented degree the prerogatives of elite and nonelite women alike to participate centrally in the social, political and increasingly theatrical functions of majesty.” It is a claim that no one who reads this careful and complex essay is likely to dispute.

Honorable mention:
Bruce Edelstein, “The Camera Verde: A Public Center for the Duchess of Florence in the Palazzio Vecchio.” Mélanges de l’École Française de Rome: Italie et Méditerranée 115 (2003): 51-87.

Edelstein impressively combines art and architectural history to re-interpret the 1553 inventory of the Camera Verde, previously occupied by Eleonora, Duchess of Florence. The Camera Verde has often been represented as Eleonora’s private bedroom. This essay shows it to have been an artfully constructed public space, representing Eleonora’s important administrative role as the manager of the Medici estates and household accounts. Analyzing a wealth of material examples, including tapestry panel “mule covers,” ceiling frescos and iron money chests, Edelstein convincingly argues for the ceremonial functions of the space and its furnishings. In so doing he offers new insights into women’s participation in the public world of early modern Italy.

Josephine Roberts Edition Prize:
Award winner:
Holt N. Parker,ed., The Complete Writings of an Italian Heretic: Olympia Morata. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

The Complete Writings of an Italian Heretic is the translated works of Olympia Morata, an educated humanist and evangelical in 16th-century Italy. Accused as a Protestant heretic, she later moved to Germany where she continued her writing and teaching. The translations, the first in English, include her letters, poems, and public speeches. The book is particularly useful to both scholars and students in that it brings together Protestant and Catholic issues, as well as humanist learning within different geographic territories. The introduction in particular provides a cohesive background on both Morata and her family, as well as the larger context of the Reformation. The book includes detailed notes, a bibliography and an index.

Honorable Mention:
Joy Wiltenberg, ed. and transl., Women in Early Modern Germany. An Anthology of Popular Texts. Tucson, Arizona: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2002.[actually published in 2003]

Women in Early Modern Germany compiles a variety of translated works (with both German and English texts) about women (mostly by men) covering a variety of subjects: marriage, sexuality, family etc. Each section includes a helpful introduction and discussion of the historical context of the work. The collection is particularly welcome, since there are a dearth of sources in English on early modern German women. The texts provide a good representation of popular culture and would be entertaining for classroom teaching.

Collaborative Project
Award winner:
Alison Levy, ed., Widowhood and Visual Culture in Early Modern Europe. Aldershot, Hampshire, England: Ashgate Publishers, 2003.

Widowhood and Visual Culture is comprised of fifteen essays on the culture of widowhood and its representation in early modern Europe. The collection shows an impressive breadth geographically including essays on Italy, England,
Germany, France, Austria, and Spain. The essays treat mourning and memory in relation to individuals as well as groups, and through high and low culture. The authors approach gender and visual culture from multiple viewpoints: timeless/timeliness, complexity/contradiction, iconicity/mutability, ritual/representation, and memory/history. This book will be of interest to scholars in several disciplines as well as useful in classroom teaching. (We hope to see a paperback edition in the future).

Honorable Mention:
Jane L. Carroll and Alison G. Stewart, eds., Saints, Sinners, and Sisters. Gender and Northern Art in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Aldershot, Hampshire, England: Ashgate Publishers, 2003.

This collection of eleven essays on gender and art in Northern Europe fills a genuine need in the literature and it is distinguished for its high quality scholarship and pedagogical clarity. The essays consider material culture, tapestries, gems, and ivories, in addition to paintings or prints. The authors weave together different disciplines ( art history, history, and anthropology) in smooth, clear and accessible writing. The authors treat “gender” as an interplay or dialogue between men and women rather than as a fixed aspect of identity. And the contributors agree on multivalent readings and on the role of audiences in making meaning.

Graduate Student Conference Presentation Award:
Patricia Pender, “The Ghost in the Machine: Philip and Mary Sidney.” Presented at the 2003 conference of the Group for Early Modern Studies.

In the Committee’s view, a highly original argument and a precise, confident writing style distinguish Pender’s essay from other promising submissions.

Pender demonstrates convincingly that Philip Sidney’s importance to literary history is indebted to Mary Sidney’s efforts to a greater extent than is generally appreciated. “Publishing at her own instigation, through her own choice of stationer, a compilation that she had selected to accompany an edition that she had helped to edit, of a book bearing her name, that is dedicated to her, and which identifies her as its genesis, inspiration and owner,” Mary Sidney is, Pender argues, the ‘material’ author, though not the writer, of the 1598 Arcadia. The essay does not transfer Philip’s status as author to Mary unquestioned; rather, Pender counters assumptions of autonomy implicit in any discussions of authorship with an insistence on the collective nature of early modern print publication. To pursue the implications of calling Mary Sidney a material author, including her contributions to the history of the book, Pender deftly takes up Richard Helgerson’s familiar categories of prodigal and laureate poets. She contends not only that Mary’s “publishing program” for her brother’s works enables his place in literary history among the the first early modern laureate authors, but also that Mary positions herself as fulfilling the role of laureate author (through her religious and moral writings), even as she also casts Philip as a prodigal poet (by her emphasis on his erotic and secular works). Pender’s essay offers valuable new perspectives on Mary Sidney’s contributions to print culture and invites readers to rethink the critical paradigms that we use to construct literary histories.

No awards were given this year for the categories of and Arts & Media Project.

Submitted by Amy Froide, Chair, Awards Committee, November 9, 2003.


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