Intellectual Families in Early Modern Europe

AHA Session 101
Friday, January 7, 2011: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Tremont Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Meghan Roberts, Northwestern University
Anthony Grafton, Princeton University

Session Abstract

Historians have long explored the family using the methods of social history but recently, historians such as Deborah Harkness and Gadi Algazi have demonstrated how fruitful the study of domestic life can be for the history of intellectuals and ideas.  This panel contributes to such recent scholarship and emphasizes the centrality of the family to the intellectual culture of early modern Europe.  The interpretive lens of family life reveals a new cast of historical actors, including a number of women, as well as new spaces and processes for the practice and making of knowledge.
     The three case studies in this panel demonstrate that the family — both biological and constructed — was a crucial site for the development, practice, and representation of ideas.  Families worked together to produce knowledge, advocated for individual family members and the dynasty within the larger network of the Republic of Letters, and provided early modern intellectuals with a vocabulary to describe their endeavors.  The panel juxtaposes different national and temporal contexts — Renaissance Italy,  the transnational Republic of Letters, and Enlightenment France — and thereby demonstrates the many different ways that family life and intellectual life could intersect.  Sarah Ross’s paper considers the Andreini family, a theatrical family that was able to avoid social opprobrium by skillfully deploying a rhetoric of domestic values.  Carol Pal discusses familles d’alliance, arguing that these constructed kin groups provided a key network for diverse scholars as well as a site of mentorship and friendship that proved particularly important for female intellectuals.  Meghan Roberts’s paper considers how French philosophes used their domestic lives as sites of experimentation by testing out theories of education on their own children and how advertising these domestic experiments increased philosophes’ intellectual and empirical authority.   Thus while the papers all touch upon different subjects, they hinge upon a central argument: that the rhetoric of domestic experience shaped the practice and reception of knowledge and intellectual families.  
     Studying intellectual history within a domestic framework complicates historians’ understandings of the relationships between men and women, public and private, and social and intellectual history.  As such, this panel will interest historians of early modern Europe, historians of the family, and intellectual historians, as well as scholars working on women’s and gender history and on the intersections of the public and private spheres.

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