Congratulations to the winners of Awards from the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women for work published in 2009! The Awards will be formally announced at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women on October 14, 2010. The award-winning works are listed below.
Award: Suzanne G. Cusick, Francesca Caccini at the Medici Court: Music and the Circulation of Power (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2009)
This dazzling study combines a particularly innovative scholarly methodology with a command of social and historical nuance in ways that serve to transform our understanding not just of the topic at hand, but also our understanding of how the discipline can work at its best. Suzanne Cusick’s book, Francesca Caccini at the Medici Court, will no doubt be classed among the biographies, for it is a rich evocation of the life of one of the most prolific of early seventeenth-century composers, but it serves also as a fascinating exploration of a “gynocentric universe,” the Tuscan women’s court of Christine de Lorraine and her daughter-in-law Maria Magdalena d’Austria, and the ways in which music might provide “possibilities for agency and self-possession” on the part of the elite women of that world. Music was, as Cusick’s subtitle suggests, fundamental to the circulation of power in that elite milieu, for “the musical acts required of a pupil taught both the physical and mental behaviors necessary to womanly ways of wielding agency and power.” Drawing on letters, musical scores, documentary accounts, and a wide array of feminist theoretical perspectives, Cusick provides us with a single story, told powerfully, using techniques and approaches that are stunningly original.
Honorable Mention: Dena Goodman, Becoming a Woman in the Age of Letters (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009)
This wide-ranging study focuses on the “material culture of women’s letter writing in eighteenth-century France” with specific reference to the letter collections of four women from various social classes. Goodman situates her rigorous textual analysis of these women’s unpublished letters, whose recovery involved extensive archival work in family papers as well as libraries and museums, with a carefully contextualized discussion of material goods, visual sources, literary works, and educational treatises. Engaging debates in the “history of consumption” through a deftly elaborated theoretical argument, Goodman productively focuses on “writing rather than authorship, and on the writing that women who write do, rather than on women writers.” This shift enables her to make truly “convincing claims about gender, writing, and modern subjectivity.”
Award: Daniella Kostroun and Lisa Vollendorf, ed. Women, Religion, and the Atlantic World (1600-1800) (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2009).
This book, drawing on research in history, literature and anthropology, is a fine example both of collaboration and of interdisciplinary study. Taking a broad geographical, class, and racial focus, the book intervenes in the vigorous discussion now underway in historical studies of the Atlantic basin and argues for more substantial dialogue on women, gender, and religion in this context. Collectively, the book’s contributors make the case for the urgency of focusing on women and gender in light of the neglect of this lens in Atlantic Studies, and they show how the combined rubric of gender and religion expands and enhances the emerging picture of the “Atlantic” world. Frequent cross-references among these essays and authors make the book more than a collection, a substantial meeting of minds, on topics that to many readers will be new and engaging. Discussing unmarried, itinerant women preachers and clandestine convents in England; forced marriages and religious vocations in Perù; Pueblo witchcraft in New Mexico; the supernatural significance of monstrous births in Guatemala; crypto-Jewish women in Mexico; African slave Christians in Dutch Saint Thomas and other topics and ranging from Europe to the Caribbean to Africa and North America, the volume illustrates both the rich potential of transnational scholarship on women and the pervasive and complex presence of religion in the lives of early moderns. For its innovative approach to identity, its expansive conception of culture, and its commitment to cross-disciplinary dialogue, Women, Religion, and the Atlantic World (1600-1800) deserves a wide readership and merits this year’s SSEMW award for collaborative work.
Honorable Mention: Julie Campbell and Anne R. Larsen, ed. Early Modern Women and Transnational Communities of Letters (Surrey, UK and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009).
An impressive collaborative achievement in the interdisciplinary humanities, this collection promotes a way of looking at early modern European women writers as connected rather than solitary or isolated figures. The volume publishes work on the social, epistolary, and institutional networking by these women through literary friendships, “family” alliances, and other types of bonds facilitated by the development of the printing press and women’s own new physical mobility. Marked by originality and expert research, this book’s individual essays are tightly bound by their common exploration of these literary communities and the means by which they were developed and maintained. Chapter foci range, for example, from a Dutch aristocratic family’s recovery of its identity through women’s letters, to an Italian nun’s bridging of secular and convent worlds through commerce, to a French female printer’s woman-centered editorial practice, to women’s involvement in emblem culture, and cross-channel exchanges of prayers.
Josephine A. Roberts Scholarly Edition
Award: Sarah E. Owens, ed. and trans. Journey of Five Capuchin Nuns (Toronto: Iter & Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2009)
The National Library in Madrid contains the manuscript of a gripping travel account by one Madre María Rosa, who with four other women religious made the arduous voyage from Spain to Lima, Peru, to found a convent in the Andes mountains in the early 18th century. Owen’s marvelous translation captures the immediacy and wit of María Rosa’s narrative, which takes us from the nuns’ efforts to obtain permission for their divinely inspired venture to their capture by Dutch pirates, their arrival in Peru, and the difficult process of convincing the local population to entrust their daughters to their convent. Owens’ excellent introduction elaborates the political and religious contexts of early modern Spain and the Atlantic World, and makes the case for the genre of women’s travel writing to which this document is such an important contribution. Owens is to be commended for her compelling and extremely readable translation as well as for her lucid and informative introduction to a document that deserves to be read by all scholars and students of early modern religion, history, and literature.
Honorable Mention: Lynne Tatlock, ed. and trans. Meditations on the Incarnation, Passion, and Death of Jesus Christ. By Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg. (Chicago and London: U of Chicago P, 2009)
Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg was one of the most learned and prolific Protestant women writers of the 17th century. Thanks to Lynne Tatlock’s scholarly introduction and translation of a selection of Greiffenberg’s Meditations, English readers now have access to these original and fascinating works which destabilize gender roles and place women in the foreground as privileged vehicles of the Christian word. Tatlock does an admirable job setting Greiffenberg’s eventful life against the struggle between the Catholic Hapsburgs and the Protestant nobility as it played out in Germany. Her exacting translation and helpful notes make Greiffenberg’s intensely devotional writings accessible to contemporary readers. Tatlock is to be commended for introducing us to this complex poet and writer whose focus on Mary, Elizabeth, and women of the early Church provides a particularly female and even feminist perspective on Lutheranism and the Protestant Reformation more generally.
Elizabeth I and Her Age is a finely wrought volume, as richly detailed and compelling as the full-length portrait of the Queen shown on its cover. Ten of its twelve sections follow Elizabeth’s life both chronologically and thematically, from early days in which her legitimacy and authority were repeatedly questioned to the victory over the Spanish Armada that established England’s maritime supremacy. The work’s closing two sections gather accounts of Elizabeth from the late sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries, and compile important modern critical essays on aspects of Elizabeth’s reign, character and legacy. This compendium of primary and secondary texts will be of great use in literature, history and women’s and gender studies courses, and might also profitably appear on syllabi in art history, theater, political science or religion. Editors Donald Stump and Susan M. Felch have done a tremendous service to all who teach or want to understand the Elizabethan Age; their numerous, section-by-section historical introductions join meticulously chosen texts to make for clear, lively and engaging reading. Queen Elizabeth is by turns solemn, as she anchors Protestant reforms throughout her realm, or playful – a letter to a French suitor terms him “my dear Frog”; such are among the multiple traits illuminated in this beautifully executed work.
Michelle DiMeo, “Lady Katherine Ranelagh or Lady Margaret Orrery?: Reattributing Authorship for ‘The Boyle Family Receipt Book.'” MLA. Philadelphia: Dec., 2009.
In relatively brief, conference-paper format, this paper convincingly presents the results of long archival work and persistent inquiry. Michelle DiMeo brings paleographical and bibliographical skills to her study of a seventeenth-century cookery, or “receipt,” book that has been considered a compilation by Lady Katherine Ranelagh. DiMeo’s comparison of many of Ranelagh’s letters to the recipes copied in the book lead her to conclude that the receipt book’s hand was not Lady Katherine’s. The close material reading to which DiMeo submits the manuscript allows her to discuss receipt books as a genre, and to caution against using them too promptly as examples of single-authored life writing.
Brian Oberlander, “Susanne as Symbol in the Sixteenth-Century French Chanson.” American Musicological Society’s Midwest chapter meeting. Berea, OH: April 25, 2009.
The story of Susanna and the Elders was a favorite subject in painting, theater and religious poetry in the sixteenth century; Brian Oberlander examines its importance in French chanson. Oberlander points out Susanna’s silent, passive and even “scenic” role in the biblical story, contrasting it with her heroic character in the “Susanne un jour” poem and musical setting. Emphasis on Susanna’s resistance to those who would corrupt her established her as representative of Protestant identity in sixteenth-century France, an iconic figure for the Huguenot movement in a time of intense religious conflict. Oberlander’s perceptive study stakes out a small corner of rhetorical and musical development to help interpret broader political and social phenomena.
Dana Wessell Lightfoot’s article is a fascinating example of what we might call women’s history from below. It offers real insight into the lives of immigrant and laboring-status women in Valencia during the period from 1420-1440. Lightfoot focuses on these women’s marriage negotiations and compares their experiences with those of more elite women. Lightfoot bases her claims on an amazing archive of primary documents, including 300 marriage contracts and 220 petitions for dowry restitution that were heard in the court of civil justice. Her main contention is that women at the lower end of the social spectrum had a surprising amount of control over their marriage choices: they often played a central role in choosing their spouses and in gathering the assets for their dowries (not to mention in trying to regain control of those assets if they perceived them to be in jeopardy). This isn’t to say that these women made their conjugal decisions on their own. Indeed, Lightfoot reveals how elective families – like employers and even sometimes friends and neighbors – regularly helped to arrange, negotiate, and provide financial support for the women’s unions. In the end, Lightfoot’s analysis of working women’s self-determination in their marriages complicates the traditional view of the “traffic in women” and demonstrates the need for a more nuanced model to describe the experiences of non-elite women.
Honorable Mention: Crystal B. Lake, “Redecorating the Ruin: Women and Antiquarianism in Sarah Scott’s Millenium Hall.” ELH 76 (2009): 661-86.
This fine articles puts Sarah Scott’s feminist-utopian novel Millenium Hall in illuminating relationship with eighteenth-century antiquarianism and with “the sea-change happening in British historiography” of the same era; it argues that Scott “appropriates the antiquary’s patriotic concern for the material remains of Britain’s past in order to position women as both historical agents and agents of history.” Lake breaks new critical ground when she explores how the novel’s progressive vision is rooted in discourses of antiquity and courtliness, and how its feminism is defined in heroic and masculinist terms. Bringing fresh historical materials to bear on close readings of Scott’s fiction, Lake makes a persuasive case for Scott establishing “women, not men, as the living inheritors of the virtues of Briton’s ancient ages.” Particularly interesting is Lake’s claim that the novel operates as a textual cabinet of curiosities: the several inset narratives “replace the antiquarian collection of dead, inert artifacts with textually materialized histories of women” and thereby “bridge . . . the gap between the millennial future . . . and the antiquarian past.”
Arts and Media:
Award: Candace Smith & Cappella Artemisia. Soror Mea, Sponsa Mea (Padua: Poligrafo, 2009).
The CD “Soror mea, sponsa mea” (My sister, my spouse) accompanies the publication of essays written for a conference that took place in Bologna in 2005, titled Soror Mea, Sponsa Mea, Arte e Musica nei Conventi Femminili in Italia tra Cinque e Seicento (My sister, my spouse: Art and Music in Italian Convents of the 16th and 17th centuries). The CD collects motets and chants from a number of previous recordings by Cappella Artemisia, some of which pertain to the theme—from the Song of Songs—of the conference. It stands on its own, however, for its excellence in Early Music performance, choral and instrumental. Most of the works were written by women composers, all nuns, and they show off a tremendous variety of compositional styles. Although scored for the traditional four parts (soprano, alto, tenor, bass), the works are sung entirely by women (with the lower parts transposed up an octave), just as they were originally performed in convents. Cappella Artemisia is an ensemble founded and directed by Candace Smith that is dedicated to the performance and recording of music associated with Italian convents in the early modern period. Beautifully performed and professionally produced, the CD deserves widespread distribution.