2015 Award Winners

SSEMW Awards 2015 (for books published in 2014)
Chair, Wendy Heller

  1. Book Award

Amanda E. Herbert, Female Alliances: Gender, Identity, and Friendship in Early Modern Britain. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014.

 This deeply researched and finely crafted study examines the forms of women’s social ties in early modern Britain and its colonies. Through an exemplary interdisciplinary approach, the author employs an impressive array of original source materials that are treated through a variety of methodological approaches. This variety in no way impinges upon the unity of the monograph, which is elegantly written and edited. The book’s attention to women’s alliances and friendships developed for their mutual support in socially and physically challenging environments will attract feminist historians and historians of same-sex cultures. Although the volume is clearly of significant import for other specialists in the field, it is so clearly and gracefully written that it will be fully accessible to undergraduate students as well.


Book: Honorable Mention

Margaret E. Boyle, Unruly Women: Performance, Penitence, and Punishment in Early Modern Spain. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014.

This highly original study examines the relationship between public theaters and correctional institutions for women developed in early modern Spain. The roles that women played in defining and inhabiting these spaces are carefully defined through the examination of original archival materials and contemporary printed sources. This carefully focused study makes for fascinating reading and provides an important model for the employment of historical sources for the analysis of literary texts.


  1. Essays or Articles
  1. René Baernstein and John Christopoulos, ‘Interpreting the Body in early Modern Italy: Pregnancy, Abortion and Adulthood’, Past and Present, 223 (May 2014)

This elegantly and compellingly written article explores a number of interrelated contexts for understanding a single, well-documented case of unanticipated or disavowed pregnancy. In 1569, a thirteen-year-old convent boarder gave birth in Milan. Baernstein and Christopoulos’s research is triggered by a rich account of this event, which, though it came as a surprise to everyone involved, was not unprecedented. After surveying medical and social techniques for diagnosing pregnancy, Baernstein and Christopoulos discuss issues relating to social identity and impotence, including the sexual impotence claimed by the girl’s husband and the personhood of the foetus. The latter raises questions of possible criminality when a pregnant woman is unknowingly treated with ‘remedies’ that might contribute to stillbirth or neo natal death. This particular episode engagingly touches on many aspects of personhood, maturity, responsibility, medical possibility and the tensions between biological and socially mediated representations of the body.


III. Josephine Roberts Award for Scholarly Edition

Catherine de Médicis and others, Portraits of the Queen Mother: Polemics, Panegyrics, Letters, translation and study by Leah L. Chang and Katherine Kong (Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2014)

Leah L. Chang and Katherine Kong present a rich archive of sources by and about Catherine de Médicis, allowing readers to consider her identity in her own lifetime from many different angles. Materials about Catherine, including ambassador’s accounts, for instance, allow contradictory views of this important woman to sit alongside each other, providing a fascinating account of how reputation and historical character are developed. The editors have selected from an enormous archive including correspondence, diplomatic prose and the legend-building, anti-Catherine work A Marvelous Discourse. The volume is further enriched by lovely colour reproductions.

As the title suggests, the collection contains materials pertaining to Catherine as Mother. By focusing on the multifaceted issue of motherhood, the editors have devised a principle of selection which, together with the unusual combination of de Médicis- and other-authored documents, has produced a highly original and informative edition. The translated pieces elucidate her role and actions in ways that will surprise many readers, while the editors’ introduction summarises the historical recuperation of de Médicis’ identity. This collection could be used in different levels of classes across various subjects: French history, gender studies, political theory, and early modern religion.  The religious wars in France, and Catherine’s part in them, are some of the most contentious and debated issues in early modern history and this book opens up new ways to look and think about them.


  1. Editions: Honourable mention

Hester Pulter, Poems, Emblems, and The Unfortunate Florindaby Lady Hester Pulter, ed.  Alice Eardley (Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2014)

 This important edition brings together for the first time all of Hester Pulter’s works, and it combines a modernised text with accessible yet sophisticated annotation. The nearly two thousand informative notes illuminate otherwise difficult references in Pulter’s lively body of work, which comprises poems (lyrics, political satire, elegy), emblems, and a romance. Eardley’s edition will enable Pulter’s literary works to be taught in the classroom alongside more well-known civil war writers. An extensive glossary keeps the explanation of frequently used complex or unfamiliar words neatly at the back. Eardley’s clear and engaging introduction shows how Pulter was both representative of and anomalous in her own culture. Her physical isolation did not hinder her profound intellectual immersion in the political and scientific debates of the mid century.


  1. Graduate Conference Paper Award

Sarah Mayo (University of Georgia), “Grotesque Sex: Hermaphroditism and Castration in Jonson’s Volpone”

“Grotesque Sex: Hermaphroditism and Castration” takes a fresh look at one of the most popular plays of the early seventeenth century, Jonson’s Valpone, ambitiously considering the work both in terms of its cultural-historical context and its treatment by directors in recent years. Mayo focuses on the play’s sexually grotesque servants, taking account of ancient and early modern attitudes about eunuchs, hemaphroditism, and castrati (who became increasingly important in 17th-century Venice), contrasting these views with modern medical and psychoanalytic perspectives. Deftly combining cultural history and medical history with reception and performance studies, the paper concludes with a provocative discussion of modern performances of Valpone and the consequences of sanitizing or accentuating the grotesque elements of the play, thus showing why an understanding of early modern sexuality can be vital importance in the production of early modern drama.


  1. Collaborative Projects

 Sara F. Matthews-Grieco (ed.), Cuckoldry, Impotence and Adultery in Europe (15th-17th century) Farnham, UK and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2014

Cuckoldy, Impotence and Adultery in Europe approaches an oft-ignored topic from a richly varied set of interdisciplinary perspectives. The ten essays in this generously illustrated volume vividly demonstrate the extent to which concerns with potency (and lack thereof) permeated almost every facet of every day life in early modern Europe, leaving substantial traces in art, literature, drama, and science. The focus on a single topic is particularly impressive, as is the wide range of methodologies and types of sources, which include early modern medicine, satires, renaissance comedies, sacred and secular painting, and dynastic history. This innovative collection leaves readers with a far more nuanced understanding not only of masculine cultural and identity in this period, but also of the complex mechanisms underlying the so-called “double standard” that was so vital to early modern sexuality.


Honorable Mention collaborative project:

 Leslie C. Dunn and Katherine R. Larson, Gender and Song in Early Modern England (Farnham, UK and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2014)

The introduction to Gender and Song in Early Modern England, with its evocation of Johannes Vermeer’s painting The Concert, provides a marvelous entry point for a collection that while focused more or less on a single time or place, considers a broad range of issues having to do with the complex relationships between music, gender, race, art, and representation of all sorts in the early modern period. Although song and sound are given center stage in all the essays, this is a collection that is appealing to scholars from a wide variety of disciplines. From transgressive broadside ballades, to witches and madness on the stage, to the gendering of music in devotional and educational contexts, this collection offers a host of new insights into the sonic world of early modern women.


VII. Digital scholarship, New Media, Web-based projects

 Sheila Barker, Jane Fortune Research Program on Women Artists in the Age of the Medici at the Medici Archive Project.

Linked with Medici Archive Project, the Jane Fortune Research Program on Women Artists focuses in particular on discovering and disseminating new archival material about early modern female artists, all of which ar de available through the excellent search engine on the Medici Archive website. In addition to its online presence, the program also supports conferences and publications, as well as supplying invaluable training for young scholars in the digital humanities sponsoring training programs and internships. The website also includes some transcriptions and translations of recently uncovered documents that will be of interest to the entire membership.

Director: Sheila Barker – barker@medici.org