2014 Award Winners

Congratulations to all our 2014 award winners

Melinda S. Zook, Protestantism, Politics, and Women in Britain, 1660-1714, Palgrave series Early Modern History: Society & Culture, Palgrave Macmillan 2013.

For its ambition, accessibility, and significance, we award the SSEMW Book Prize to Melinda S. Zook for her Protestantism, Politics, and Women in Britain, 1660-1714. Lively, engaging, and deeply researched, this book uncovers and investigates women’s political activism in Restoration England, insisting upon the inclusion in our scholarly narratives of the many women who participated in the politics of late Stuart England. Zook powerfully revises our understanding of British political history by highlighting the political contributions by women from both the Whig and Tory camps and by identifying religion as “a prime motivator for political action, affiliation, and allegiance” in late Stuart England. As Zook demonstrates, women’s activism bridged the private and public realms, and kinship terms such as “nursing mothers” and “sanctified sisters” became honorary titles for women helping the Protestant and Anglican causes, respectively. In a series of well-selected case studies, Zook examines middle- and upper-class women who assisted prosecuted Protestants, explores the Anglican commitments of Aphra Behn, and discusses the balanced politics of Mary II, who spent her formative years in the Protestant Netherlands before becoming Queen of England. Zook’s ambitious book thoughtfully articulates its major critical interventions while acknowledging the poignancy of working with fragments to recover the voices and political engagements of Stuart women who often covered their own tracks.

Honorable Mention:
George McClure, Parlour Games and the Public Life of Women in Renaissance Italy, University of Toronto Press, 2013.

We commend George McClure for his deeply researched and highly original study. In this fascinating and appealing analysis, McClure explicitly engages Joan Kelly’s famous question – “Did women have a Renaissance?” – and turns to game-playing and female agency in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Siena. A model of scholarly curiosity and well-framed argument, Parlour Games aims to hear and see a “heretofore silent and invisible group” – the unexceptional wives and daughters of the Italian patriciate. This compelling monograph concludes that Italian women did experience a Renaissance, marked by a shift in status, a place at the table, and a new realm in which to renegotiate gender relations.

Barbara Torelli Benedetti, Partenia, a Pastoral Play, ed. and trans. Lisa Sampson & Barbara Burgess-Van Aken (Toronto, 2013)

Barbara Torelli Benedetti’s Partenia can claim to be the first neoclassical secular drama by an Italian woman. The twentieth-century rediscovery of the two sole extant manuscripts was therefore a significant event for the study of early modern women’s writing. It also created a need for a modern edition, which Sampson and Burgess Van-Aken have now in a useful and inviting paperback.
Partenia is a pastoral play, an attractive genre for women as it provided ample opportunity for the display of graceful, modest, and gently didactic writing, while lacking a rigid structure. Its love story is resolutely high-minded. Partenia, a chaste nymph, is beloved by two shepherds who are friends yet unaware of their rivalry. She promises one of them that she will marry no one else, but is then pressured by her father to wed his rival. Overwhelmed by guilt at having been in rivalry, the shepherd beloved of Partenia dies, followed by Partenia herself, but fortunately not for long, since it turns out that the shepherd her father has decided should be her husband is actually Partenia’s long-lost brother. Revived and reunited, all celebrate a happy ending. As the editors explain, while pastoral drama was a popular and important genre in the late sixteenth century, Torelli makes significant innovations, notably by introducing a strong spiritual, Christian element, and by giving voice to women’s concerns about forced marriage. It is possible that the play’s Christianity contributed to its obscurity, since in the years after its composition, Church authorities were increasingly concerned about the mixing of religious themes with secular drama.
In the introduction, what little is known about Torelli’s life is set in historical context, with particular emphasis on her intellectual involvement in literary coteries as well as the influence of convent drama on her work. A bilingual text of the play follows a detailed textual note explaining the conditions of the original manuscript and the decisions made by the current editors. The Italian verse, which maintains the original spelling, is minimally edited for readability, while the English translation is in elegant prose. The text of the play itself is clean, with endnotes relegated to the back; these helpfully respond to students’ intellectual needs as well as those of scholars by conveying information in multiple registers. By contrast, the commendatory poems in the appendix, have on-page notes that will be useful for students and scholars thinking about Torelli’s reputation and image. Referencing her forename, Barbara, one of these poets writes, ‘The name is barbarous, but the face is kind’, a pun reminiscent of those made on the “worthiness” of Mary Wroth or linguistic games played on the physical beauty (and its loss) of Katherine Philips. Literary conventions and tropes used by women writing in English, French and many other languages will spring to mind for readers of this edition of Partenia, which will create interest not only in Torelli but also in early modern women writers’ contributions to pastoral literature.

Diane Wolfthal, “Household Help: Early Modern Portraits of Female Servants,” Early Modern Women: An Interdisciplinary Journal 8 (2013), 5-52.

In this lively article, Diane Wolfthal draws our attention to a small but rewarding collection of images: early modern portraits of female servants. She makes a compelling case that art historians have been too dismissive of working women in early modern art, and too inclined to look past them to other, more elevated subjects. This neglect is understandable because in many early modern paintings, women servants appear as mere foils for their higher-ranking employers, as symbols of domestic virtue or vice, or simply as background material. Yet as Wolfthal shows, portraits of strikingly individualized female servants do exist, and the often affectionately respectful representations reproduced in her study indicate that when the artists she discusses looked at their subjects, they looked past their humble roles to the people with whom they were on close, even intimate terms. The servants in Wolfthal’s study vary widely, from an exotically dressed black servant drawn by Dürer, to the humble maidservants drawn by William Beale, to the aged women painted by John Riley and William Sonmans, whose elderly subjects were notable for their sheer longevity, having been in service for decades. Rather than generalizing about this diversity, Wolfthal analyses each portrait or set of portraits in carefully researched, engagingly recreated contest, and provides us with sensitive, nuanced commentary. This is a valuable contribution to scholarship on early modern women in art history. For historians of early modern working women, the article and its many excellent images have a special charm. We spend a lot of time trying to see early modern working women in archives that usually do not privilege their voices. It is rare to have them look back at us.

Noelia S. Cirnigliaro and John Beusterien, eds. Touching the Ground: women’s footwear in the early modern Hispanic World 14.2 (2013). Special issue of the Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies.

“Women’s shoes are special.” So begins Noelia Cirnigliaro’s brilliant introduction to this compelling interdisciplinary collection. Incipient in her phrase, like the seemingly prosaic topic of the volume, is the potential of footwear to open up bodily, material, social, political, and cross-cultural worlds. Footwear in the Iberian context is explored through historical and trans-Mediterranean connections, through analogies with architecture in theater and moralizing texts, in the trans-Atlantic context of Peru, and through its disruptive potential in theatrical cross-dressing. As a means of expressing how early moderns care for things, the shoe, as John Beusterien’s essay concludes, is “a thing that constantly points out of itself.”

Methodologically in particular the volume stands out for its productive reassessment of early modern women through shoes and their influence. Moving with and beyond material culture, and unlike biographies of objects, the introduction and the essays bring forward powerful insights by working across and between categories, disciplines, cultures, genders, and orientations. Metaphors generate productive insights. To cite Cirnigliaro: “this issue participates in a genealogy of cultural understandings of shoes and their social life, which acknowledges them simultaneously as tropes of elevation and groundedness; movement, stasis and enclosure; craftsmanship, labor and objectification”(108). In terms of currency, theoretical sophistication, methodological interest, and global perspective, this collection has it all.

Honorable Mention:
Anne J. Cruz and Maria Galli Stampino, eds. Early Modern Habsburg Women: Transnational Contexts, Cultural Conflicts, Dynastic Continuities. (Ashgate, 2013)

This volume gathers together in one place essays on six remarkable women of the Spanish and Austrian Habsburg dynasties. The transnational, comparative, and interdisciplinary scope of these essays illuminate the complex negotiations performed by these powerful women who crossed borders defined by gender, geography, language, culture, and politics as queens consort, queens regents, a vicereine, and a nun. Anne Cruz and Maria Stampino’s introduction offers an excellent overview of the complex historical contexts and dynastic genealogies of the Habsburg women across the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, while also outlining the richness of women’s history that travels across and between political, disciplinary, and methodological boundaries.

Pere Torrellas and Juan de Flores, Three Spanish Querelle Texts: Grisel and Mirabella, The Slander against Women, and The Defense of Ladies against Slanderers, ed. and trans. Emily Francomano (Toronto, 2013)

In late-fifteenth century Spanish cancioneros, or manuscript song books, texts about the nature of women were often arranged and collected together, illustrating their participation in a vigorous, often vituperous debate. Similarly, in this valuable bilingual edition of Spanish querelle texts, Emily Francomano juxtaposes three closely related works: the Slander against Women and The Defense of the Ladies against Slanderers by Pere Torrellas, and the savagely dark romance Grisel and Mirebella by Juan de Flores, in which Torrellas appears as a character. This last text was widely translated and adapted in the early modern period, and is perhaps best known to English speakers as the source for the Jacobean play Swetnam the Women Hater. While many of the same misogynistic and profeminine arguments and conceits show up repeatedly in European querelle texts, Francomano makes a strong argument for understanding each work in its specific cultural context. In her lively and sophisticated introduction, she deftly situates Torrellas and Flores in a late medieval Spanish courtly context where complicated royal gender politics and the shifting roles of noble and learned men made the nature of women a charged issue and an attractive topic for ambitious, self-fashioning writers. As Grisel and Mirabella crossed into print and was read by broader audiences in the sixteenth century, it took on new meanings in an age of Spanish dominance and multiple ruling queens and female regents. By making these English translations available, Francomano allows scholars in other language traditions to understand the cultural and literary context of these rich, influential texts, and to trace the ways that they were adapted as they crossed linguistic and cultural boundaries. As Francomano admits, their complicated word play makes translating these kinds of texts a serious challenge, but it is one that she has met with grace and skill. The translations preserve the style and syntax of the originals, yet remain admirably clear. This edition will no doubt attract a wide and grateful readership.

Valerie Worth-Stylianou, ed. and trans., Pregnancy and Birth in Early Modern France: Treatises by Caring Physicians and Surgeons (1581-1625) (Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe, 2013)

This generous collection brings together five French writers of early modern texts on women’s reproductive health and childbirth. As with all editions in this series, the introduction addresses the question of how this material represents an ‘other voice’, an issue that is particularly interesting given the male authorship of these works. It argues that medical treatises on women’s health often meditated on the nature of women, reflecting broader more philosophical concerns as well as the more explicitly medical and physiological. Worth-Stylianou argues that these gynecological treatises often focused on preserving women’s reproductive and general health, and thus represent a form of advocacy. This collection is framed to appeal to students of the history of medicine as well as of women’s history. The editor provides brief introductions for each treatise, enhancing its usefulness both for individual authors and for the group as a whole. Ample and well-judged footnotes clarify textual, cultural, and historical context, and glossaries at the back cover medical authorities, medical terms, and herbal remedies. The translation is clear and evocative of early modern French, largely retaining the original syntax but modernizing spelling and punctuation. This collection should encourage a broad audience of students, scholars, and curious readers to read these fascinating though previously inaccessible works.

Caroline Bowden (Principal Investigator, 2012-2013; James Kelly (Project Manager, 2012-2013), along with Jan Broadway, David Horne; Katherine Keats-Rohan; Michael Questier (Co-investigator and Principal Investigator 2008-2011)

Who were the Nuns: A Prosopographical study of the English convents in exile 1600-1800

This elegantly designed website provides a superb example of the ways in which a group of distinguished scholars can use technology in a collaborative fashion to make archival material accessible to scholarly communities. Drawing upon convent archives in England, Belgium, France, and the USA—and supplemented by material from external archives—the website provides a host of data about “those women who entered the English convents from the foundation of the first house in Brussels in 1598 until 1800.” Among the types of sources utilized are those that detail the baptisms, families, professions, dowry payments, deaths, property transfers, as well as the administrative roles and activities of the nuns in questions—information of value to scholars in a variety of disciplines. The interface is attractive and uncluttered, easy to navigate, and there is sufficient flexible in the search engines to allow different kinds of searches. Thus, for instance, with a few key-strokes one can learn of the musician nun “Ann Smith,” a nun who professed at the age of 17 on September 29, 1664, who “hath a most delicat Voice, and Excellent skill to teach, for which reasons we took er to help our quire, at the age of 16.” Providing information not only about individual nuns, but also communities, their regional associations, and their economic and social status of their families, this website makes a seminal contribution to the study of cloistered women in early modern Europe. The collaborators are to be congratulated for their ongoing dedication and commitment to this invaluable project, which will no doubt continue to stimulate new research in the coming years.

Abigail A Fisher, “’As well be hang’d for Murder, as for Clipping’: Female Counterfeiters in Late Stuart London” (Presented at the North American Conference on British Studies, Portland, Oregon, 2013)

Fisher’s powerful essay combines the granular detail of archival research with original arguments that extend our understanding of the full scope of women’s economic activity in Stuart London. Correcting the general omission of female coiners and counterfeiters in accounts of early modern female criminality, this essay requires us to rethink received wisdom about crime and gender in the period as well as our understanding about the range of activities that comprise female labor and agency. Fisher offers a compelling and well-documented portrait of the female coiner as a powerful entrepreneur, willing to make significant capital investments in the tools of her trade in the face of the very serious risk of capital punishment, as she employed and trained both men and women in the skilled labor of—quite literally–making money.

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