Milan Undone: Transcultural War in the Early Sixteenth Century
John Gagné is Lecturer in History at the University of Sydney. Before moving to Australia in 2010, he was a postdoctoral fellow in Montréal with the “Making Publics, 1500-1700” project, devoted to “Media, Markets, and Associations in Early Modern Europe.” His current research explores histories of politics and war around the year 1500 with a focus on intercultural contacts, material culture, and gender. Recently-published essays consider the relationship between print and female sanctity; cultures of casualty-counting in premodern war; prosthetic iron hands; and histories of document destruction and degradation.
This project examines state-breaking in the duchy of Milan, 1494-1525, in the context of war and culture. Renaissance scholars have led the way in both theorizing and tracing the history of the modern state, and have helped to position the Italian Renaissance at the heart of that process. State-making, regime consolidation, and centralizing bureaucracies have emerged as key points of focus in understanding the historical mechanics of political authority. By contrast, my study examines the dismantling of the Sforza duchy of Milan under French occupation during the Italian Wars. It interprets the meanings and repercussions of that demolition and frames it in socio-cultural terms.
Milan Undone takes the crumbling of the Sforza state and the subsequent French efforts to refashion it as an opportunity to analyze the constantly shifting dynamics between the rule of force and the rule of law at the dawn of the age of global European empire. It also works to problematize the categories that normally guide our investigations into the history of Renaissance politics. When concepts such as state, law, and power relations meet their own deconstruction or delegitimization (as happened constantly during this period), then there is space to investigate the projection and articulation of alternative visions. Accordingly, my research traces the transformation of bureaucracies, legal discourses, and structures of rulership in the Milanese duchy and its surrounding polities as a way of evidencing the frangibility of these governing concepts.