Milestone Event Brings Scholars, Students and No Knights to New College
Here’s what you’ll find at New College of Florida next week:
More than 150 scholars, from Columbia, Berkeley, Georgetown, Stanford, even the Harvard Business School, and from as far as the United Kingdom, Italy and Turkey.
People from the Sarasota and Bradenton communities learning from and being entertained by those scholars.
High school and college students getting a taste of what they might find in undergraduate and graduate school.
And here’s what you won’t find:
Knights, jesters, jousters and turkey legs.
The event is the New College Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Studies, the landmark 40th year of the biennial meeting. It is internationally recognized as one of the preeminent venues for researchers working in Italian medieval and Renaissance studies – broadly, European and Mediterranean history, literature, art, and religion from the fourth to the seventeenth centuries.
(See testimonials, below.)
As such, you’ll find leading experts discussing their research on all aspects of the period. In short, they tell it like it really was, busting some of the myths of the Middle Ages.
“Take the basic notions of chivalry, knights and ladies and guys in armor whacking each other,” says Carrie Beneš, associate professor of history at New College and a co-chair of the conference. “On the surface, yeah, that’s what a lot of it looks like. But if you actually look harder, all of those stereotypes tend to get subverted by the evidence in various and important ways.”
For example, she says: There are plenty of stories of women wearing armor and whacking things, too.
“The stereotype that people have of the Middle Ages is of an agricultural-based society, with kings and knights, manors, fiefs and serfs,” says Beneš, whose research focuses on medieval Genoa. “I study cities. The people that I study don’t have a king. They have no interest in agricultural labor. They’re dealing with international trade. My people are inventing double-entry bookkeeping.”
The conference explores facets of medieval and Renaissance society that are largely unknown to most people, in panels with titles like “Networks in Medieval Europe,” or “Renaissance Commerce & Commodities,” where one researcher will discuss a paper entitled “Hot Like Water for Chocolate: Plotting the Cultural Geography of Coffee and Chocolate.”
For those who remember college classes, some titles may ring a bell, like “Such stuff as dreams are made on: Shakespeare’s Royal Road,” “Art of the Italian Renaissance,” and “Sexual & Celestial Bodies in the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer.”
In all, there are 45 panels over three days, with two plenary addresses, “Mondino’s Assistant: Imagining the Female Anatomist in Medieval Italy,” from Paula Findlen, chair of the department of history at Stanford University, and “Performative Reading & the Medieval Book,” from Claire Sponsler, Carpenter professor of English at University of Iowa.
Asked why the field of study is still vital now, a thousand years or so later, Nova Myhill, associate professor of English at New College and conference co-chair, says it teaches students how to “form a sympathetic reading of a culture which is not like your own.”
“If they can figure out the terms of that difference, where they can understand what’s happening, and respect what that view looks like, and recognize that even though it has very little in common with the way they see the world, it is a viable, complex way to see the world – that’s the core of the liberal arts education,” she says.
New College Conference on Medieval & Renaissance Studies
Thursday, March 10, through Saturday, March 12, from 9:00 a.m. each day
New College of Florida’s Sudakoff Conference Center, General Dougher Place, Sarasota
Area residents receive discounted registration of $20 for the entire three-day conference. Registration is free for local high school students and undergraduates with ID, and for New College faculty and staff, and Ringling Museum staff.
For more information and to register: newcollegeconference.org
David Peterson, Washington & Lee University: The New College Biennial Conferences have become a major and highly respected date in the calendars of medievalists and early modernists of all stripes… People don’t just read off papers at New College. It is an ideal setting to try out new ideas and to get some genuine and very helpful feedback.
Suzanne Penuel, University of South Carolina : The New College Conference has been an important part of my intellectual life for some time now. During my first year out of college, it offered me a valuable first chance to interact with scholars who weren’t already my teachers; seventeen years later, I still go back.
George Dameron, St. Michael’s College: For at least twenty years I have regularly attended the Biennial New College Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Studies… Quite simply, and I know many of my colleagues agree, it has been and is consistently the best conference for pre-modern (medieval and Renaissance) Italian historians in North America.
Julienne Empric, Eckerd College: Undergraduate students [from a number of local colleges] are often among those in the session audiences. For many of them, this is their first experience with a scholarly conference… The presenters and commentators are supportive and committed to a mutual search for truth. So it has been a wonderful incubator for young scholars.
Benjamin Kohl, Vassar College: The New College Conference is a splendid conference, recognized among students of medieval and Renaissance Italy as the very best for the focus and quality of the papers and the fruitfulness of the scholarly exchange.
Dennis Romano, Syracuse University : I can say, in all honesty, that the New College Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Studies is my favorite conference to attend. It is one of the few conferences I attend where the normal professional rivalries and career-advancing take a back-seat to scholarship and friendship. What is particularly nice is that the intellectual exchange doesn’t end when the papers end, but extends into lunches, dinners, and pool-side drinks. It’s the perfect combination of intellectual exchange and scholarly fellowship—and the fact that it’s held in Florida in March doesn’t hurt!
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New College of Florida is a national leader in the arts and sciences and is the State of Florida’s designated honors college for the liberal arts. Consistently ranked among the top public liberal arts colleges in America by U.S. News & World Report, Forbes and The Princeton Review, New College attracts highly motivated, academically talented students from 38 states and 23 foreign countries. A higher proportion of New College students receive Fulbright awards than graduates from virtually all other colleges and universities.