Proof, Evidence, and Credibility in Renaissance Culture

AHA Session 88
Friday, January 3, 2014: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Thurgood Marshall Ballroom South (Marriott Wardman Park)
Tara E. Nummedal, Brown University
Proof, Witnessing, and the Credibility of Monsters in the Renaissance
Surekha Davies, Western Connecticut State University
Prophecy, Reformation, and Empire in Renaissance Germany
Christine R. Johnson, Washington University in Saint Louis
Nicholas Popper, College of William and Mary

Session Abstract

These papers examine conceptual challenges that confronted writers in many fields during the Renaissance: what interpretative framework is appropriate for establishing proof? How and why do communities re-evaluate what they will consider as evidence for a particular phenomenon? By what rhetorical and structural means should authors endow their works with the stamp of credibility? By juxtaposing instances in which old authorities and approaches to understanding the world were challenged, in three distinct arenas, this panel compares the ways in which intellectual traditions changed. In so doing, it offers an opportunity to approach the symbiotic relationship between culture and knowledge-making practices from multiple perspectives.

Anthony Grafton´s paper on philology examines the ways in which philologists assessed textual glosses and emendations that seemed to be derived not from evidence but from “divination" – a process disturbingly like magic. Surekha Davies´s paper reflects on how Renaissance readers thought about the problem of credibility when they attempted to make knowledge claims about extraordinary phenomena in distant worlds. Christine Johnson´s paper on prophecy during the Reformation presents the reformers’ attempts to discredit longstanding prophetic traditions in order to claim theological authority for themselves. Together, these papers point to fresh ways of thinking about intellectual communities engaged in disputation, self-fashioning and knowledge-making during a period of conceptual upheaval.

See more of: AHA Sessions