New Publication: The Concept of Conversation


Julie Campbell was kind enough to suggest I might mention my upcoming book on this list-serv, although I’m not a regular member. *The Concept of Conversation: From Cicero’s Sermo to the Grand Siècle’s Conversation* will be published by Edinburgh University Press in February 2018–I’m putting the abstract and the Table of Contents at the bottom of this post. The book’s ambitions include putting the growth of conversation as a mode of rhetoric–and hence, as a development after ca. 1400, speech with and among women–at the center of both the history of rhetoric in particular and the larger intellectual history of early modern Europe. It builds on the wonderfully substantial scholarship on the social, cultural, and literary history of early modern women, largely in France and Italy–my largest single debt in the field is to Jane Donawerth. Anyway, I mention the book, hoping it might be of interest.

David Randall
Brooklyn, New York


The Concept of Conversation: From Cicero’s Sermo to the Grand Siècle’s Conversation (February 2018)

UK Publisher’s Webpage:

US Publisher’s Webpage:

Description: In the classical period, conversation referred to real conversations, conducted in the leisure time of noble men, and concerned with indefinite philosophical topics. Christianity inflected conversation with universal aspirations during the medieval centuries and the ars dictaminis, the art of letter writing, increased the importance of this written analogue of conversation. The Renaissance humanists from Petrarch onward further transformed conversation, and its genre analogues of dialogue and letter, by transforming it into a metaphor of increasing scope. This expanded realm of humanist conversation bifurcated in Renaissance and early modern Europe. The Concept of Conversation traces the way the rise of conversation spread out from the history of rhetoric to include the histories of friendship, the court and the salon, the Republic of Letters, periodical press and women. It revises Jürgen Habermas’ history of the emergence of the rational speech of the public sphere as the history of the emergence of rational conversation and puts the emergence of women’s speech at the centre of the intellectual history of early modern Europe.

Table of Contents:

1. The Classic Origins of Conversation;
2. The Medieval Reformulations of Conversation;
3. The Renaissance of Conversation;
4. Intimate Friendship;
5. Court, Salon, and Republic of Letters;
6. Letters;
7. Sociabilitas;

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