Thomas Cohen

Thomas Cohen

Robert Lehman Visiting Professor
Books on microhistory and on village rebellion in 1556-7


Thomas V. Cohen is Professor of History and Humanities at York University in Toronto, where he has taught since 1969. His degrees come from Michigan and Harvard. Much of his work engages Renaissance Rome, both the city and its hinterland. He is interested in the political and cultural anthropology of that world, with a particular eye to values, language, memory, narration, transactional culture and the fine structure of evanescent coalitions. He enjoys the microhistorical mode for its art, wry facts, and light touch. Recent writings touch on conversation as oral practice, political shouts, the honor killing of a daughter, and the macrohistory of microhistory.

Project Summary

This year I have three books: a revision, with Elizabeth Cohen, of a second edition of Daily Life in Renaissance Italy, now fifteen years old; Roman Tales, collected essays on Roman microhistory, to lay out the current aims of the practice; and finally, a book on one very political year in the life of Rocca Sinibalda, a mountain village near Rieti that rebelled against its lord (1557), marched on Rome, shouted at the pope in his chamber, and fetched home a magistrate who made a great fat book of all local griefs and grudges, a cahier of rural Italian doléances. The larger aim is a study of political rhetorics, tactics, and alliances amidst a complex dialogue between a remote periphery and the distant centers of papal power, and an anthropology of the politics of one small community.

The visiting judge, himself later was put on trial, as were the rebels. So we have the rebellion's long back story. Behind it all looms the building of the great castle, still standing, Baldassare Peruzzi's soaring last work. So, alongside politics, we see Renaissance architecture, the view from below, from the brickworks, limekiln, mule train, and long-suffering woods.