International Conference. Submerged, Unearthed, Emergent: Early Modern Knowledge Under the Surface


Mon - Tue, Jun 17 to Jun 18, 2:45pm - 6:45pm


I Tatti
Cosmè Tura, Calliope (detail), 1460 National Gallery, London

In Underland, Robert Macfarlane notes that “a long cultural history of abhorrence exists around the underground spaces,” associating them with fear, disgust, dirt, mortality, and brutal labor. In early modern Europe, what was underground as well as undersea was not only depicted as dark, dangerous, and mysterious but also as tantalizing sources of value and meaning that spurred speculation, exploration, extraction, and colonization.


By looking at practices of excavation and recovery, extraction and colonization, appropriation and manipulation, as well as theories of the origins of stones and sea animals/monsters, the challenges of sensory representation, the employment of rare stones and fish as materia medica or talismans to be ingested, used in proximity with the body, or as decorative or apotropaic elements within buildings, this conference will ask: How did ‘thinking’ join up with ‘doing’ in early modern conceptualizations of what lies underneath? Who did the observing? Who did the conceptualizing? How did the depths’ very invisibility stimulate art and the scientific imagination? How did cultural difference inflect approaches toward the drive to know what lies hidden?

An International Conference organized by Rebecca Zorach (Northwestern University) and Monica Azzolini (Università di Bologna).

Click here to view the program.



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