Munroe – ENGL 6680

ENGL 6680: How Matter Matters in the Renaissance (Fall 2013)

Dr. Jennifer Munroe

Office Phone: 687-0368

Office: 260C Fretwell

Office Hours: Tues 2-3pm and by app’t.

Tues 5:30-8:15pm, Fretwell 223


This course examines the way that the relationship between the human and nonhuman natural world in seventeenth century England was reconfigured by developing scientific discourse—in particular, how new ways of thinking about knowledge about and experience with a nonhuman Other was reconstituted in this context. The course draws on recent research in such fields as philosophy, social justice, ecofeminism, history of science, quantum physics, and others as we discuss how the human and nonhuman alike come to “matter” in the late seventeenth century in England.


The developing discipline of science in the seventeenth century was catalyzed by a desire to comprehend and articulate the relationship between humans and nonhumans. Such knowledge, as many have argued, served as a form of dominance; and Cartesian thought in particular (where knowledge = subjecthood) the basis for a hierarchization of human over nonhuman, men over women, and theory over practice in newly quantified ways. At the same time, though, the deep desire to dominate the nonhuman “Other” (and women) betrayed anxieties about the extent to which humans (and men) dominate at all. We will consider, for example, how such technologies as automata might attest to human domination even as they anticipate anxieties about how, as science fiction writers have illustrated, the nonhuman might well subject the human in unpredictable ways. We will similarly think about how the invention of the microscope asserted the difference between human and nonhuman (plant, animal, and other), but the boundaries between the two might well be more blurred than we (and early moderns) might otherwise imagine. As we read and discuss seventeenth century literary and popular texts (and manuscripts) we will pair them with secondary and theoretical readings that ask us to rethink the supremacy of the human, and dominance of men over women, animals, and plants.


To frame this course, we will consider recent theoretical trends that rethink the “vitality” and “agency” of matter, which calls into question the hierarchy of human and nonhuman espoused by men of science during the seventeenth century in England. We will ask what we gain as well as what we lose as students and scholars of this period by seeing “matter” in this way. A look at the way “matter” came to matter during this period will turn our focus to “things” (human and nonhuman alike) at levels as broad as the ocean, the kitchen, and “Eden,” and as narrow as the atom. Texts we will read include printed prose works by Francis Bacon and Robert Boyle; fictional works by John Milton and Margaret Cavendish; and practical texts (in manuscript and print) that include medicinal and cookery recipe books by men and women.


8/20-   Intro to Course: What does it mean to “know” matter? The rise of science

Theory versus practice: what constitutes “knowledge”

What is known?           Scientia as a woman?

Who knows? (men versus women; Royal Society, practice—laboratory versus


Why “know”? What was the impetus? After all, people “knew” matter before.


8/27-   What are the implications of how something is “known” Who/what the knower and the known?

Latour, from The Politics of Nature

Bennett, from Vibrant Matter

Plumwood, from Environmental Crisis in Reason



9/3-     Jonson, The Alchemist (1610) (transforming matter, religion, alchemy)

            Bacon? Other text/s on alchemy?

            Response 1 Due


9/10-   Shakespeare, The Tempest (1611)

Francis Bacon, Novum Organum;

            Response 2 Due


9/17-   Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale (1609-11?)

Automata, others?

Haraway, Cyborg?


Response 3 Due


9/24-   Milton (Paradise Lost) (prose piece/s about knowledge/nature)

Robert Boyle, civil war texts? 

Hiltner, Milton and Ecology

My piece?

Response 4 Due


10/1-   Milton (Paradise Lost) (prose piece/s about knowledge/nature)

            Response 5 Due


10/8-   NO CLASS (Fall Break)


10/15- Hooke, Micrographia (EEBO) and Cavendish, Observations


            Response 6 Due


10/22- Cavendish (Blazing World, some Sociable Letters)

Response 7 Due

10/29-             Alethea Talbot, Natura Exenterata (EEBO)

Sir Kenelm Digby (EEBO)

Lady Ann Fanshawe’s manuscript book by

and paleography crash course: practice versus “matter” (can we really decenter the human? Do we really or always want to?)

Haraway, “Situated Knowledges” (for secretary and italic alphabets in

early modern hand)

            Response 8 Due


11/5-   Recipe Transcription (troubleshoot in class and work together)


11/12- Recipe Transcription (troubleshoot in class, etc)


11/19-             Recipe Transcription (troubleshoot in class, etc)


11/26-             Research day/Conferences


12/3-   Presentations on papers in progress (our house with dinner?)

            Recipe Transcription Due

            EEBO Assignment Due


12/9 (Monday)- Seminar Papers Due in my mailbox by 5pm


ENGL 6680: How Matter Matters in the Renaissance (Fall 2013)

Dr. Jennifer Munroe

Office Phone: 687-0368

Office: 260C Fretwell

Office Hours: Tues 2-3pm and by app’t.

Tues 5:30-8:15pm, Fretwell 223


Texts and Reading:

Ben Jonson, The Alchemist

William Shakespeare, The Tempest

William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale

John Milton, Paradise Lost

Margaret Cavendish, The Blazing World and Other Writings

Other texts and articles available electronically, either through EEBO (a database on the Atkins Library site) or otherwise.


Assignments (see below for particulars):

  1. Weekly Responses 20%
  2. Recipe Transcription 20%
  3. EEBO Assignment 20%
  4. Researched Seminar Paper 30%
  5. Participation 10%


  1. Weekly Responses (20%)

Each week (or nearly each week), in preparation for class discussion and to help guide your reading, I will give you a prompt that asks you to focus on a question/topic related to the following week’s assignment. The purpose of these responses (typed, and 1-2 pages single-spaced) is to help you focus on an idea/set of ideas that will aid you as you read and that will begin to frame the work we do in class when we meet. Therefore, I do not expect that your response necessarily provide a definitive “answer” to the question but rather explore in a structured and focused way the question itself as you see it playing out in the set of texts we will discuss. Your response will need to have a thesis and use evidence from the text to support your preliminary thoughts in answer to the question/topic, but you may, of course, return to your response later and use them to help refine your ideas after class discussion.


  1. Recipe Transcription (20%)

I have designated four weeks to the study of recipe books this semester, the first to look at recipe books in print and manuscript, and the following three to work on a transcription project. You will participate in an ongoing project through the Textual Communities site at the University of Saskatchewan (and related to a developing database under the auspices of EMROC: Early Modern Recipes Online Collective) by which you will help transcribe a manuscript recipe book from the seventeenth century. To prepare you for this transcription, we will devote time during class on October 29 to discuss paleography (or, the study of early modern handwriting); and your transcriptions will become part of a permanent database, with “authorship” attributed to you for your efforts. You will also be graded on this assignment. This assignment is due Tuesday, December 3rd when class meets.


  1. EEBO Assignment (20%)

For this exercise, you will use the Early English Books Online database located on our library website (I will demonstrate in class) and research a subject between 1600-1700 to provide context for the historical circumstances and print (and manuscript) texts during this period. For this assignment, you will follow a series of steps, culminating in a written product, 3-5 pages single-spaced (and typed). This exercise will familiarize you with one of the most informative databases available for research in early modern studies as well as with the specifics about understanding how to use primary texts to create a sense of historical context. It will also prepare you to use a text/s from this database for your final researched paper. You will choose the topic you would like to research in this database, ideally related to the topic you will focus on for your seminar paper, though I am happy to assist you if you would like additional guidance.

To prepare yourself to write, you will want to take notes as you complete the following:

  1. Locate texts under your chosen subject heading in the EEBO database. Some topics will have many texts, some will have few.


  1. Go through the list of texts (and if there are many, you can skip around) to familiarize yourself with the types and number of titles that are published on this subject.


  1. What, if any, are the date/s when we find texts published on this subject? What was happening historically that coincided with the dates of publication?


  1. Choose 3-5 texts (depending on length) to look at more in depth and familiarize yourself with the argument each is making about the subject.

For your written product, you will need to do the following (the first part on the macro- level, and the second on the more micro-level):


  1. In 1-2 (single-spaced) pages, extrapolate from the number and types of texts written on your subject what the level and type of interest there was in the subject. What, for example, seems to be at stake in the subject you chose as best you can tell from the list of texts published, and what might the concentration of a particular date range tell us about the “argument” that we can trace about this topic?


  1. In 2-4 (single-spaced) pages, and focusing on the 3-5 texts you chose for #4 above, what, more specifically, seems to be the argument that emerges about the subject you chose? In other words, what is the “thesis” of each of the 3-5 texts (and they might in fact be making divergent arguments), and how does each text make that argument (its evidence/points)?
  1. In a paragraph or so, what did this exercise make you think about/what have you learned that is new?
  1. In another paragraph or so, what connection/s can you draw between the texts on EEBO and the related literary text/s that we have discussed in class? What sort of context have you been able to glean from this exercise that informs the more conventionally “literary” texts?


If you have ANY questions at all as you work, please do not hesitate to contact me by email or ask me when we meet for class. While this assignment is due 12/3 (at the beginning of class) and you can begin work on it at any point during the semester, I strongly recommend you do not wait until the last minute, when other assignments (including your researched paper) will soon be due.


  1. Seminar Paper (30%)

For this paper you will create a 10-15 page researched argument based on a question that you want further to develop from our readings this semester. Your paper will present your argument about one of the texts we’ve studied in its historical context and that represents its place within the broader scholarly (and theoretical) conversation about the topic you choose. You will, therefore, need to account for three things in your final product:


  1. Your argument (thesis that you develop from beginning to end) about the topic you choose based on one primary literary (or popular) text, which will allow you to have more extensive close readings. That is, you will need to put forward your argument about the “argument” you believe the text is making about a topic related to the class.


  1. Situate your argument in its historical context. To do this, you will need to research/prepare by considering the contemporary historical context from primary sources as well as secondary as follows:


  1. Choose 1-2 EEBO sources of relevance to situate your argument/text among others (similar, different, etc) in the seventeenth century in England.


  1. Re-introduce yourself to (and represent in your argument) some of the readings we have done this semester that help provide this background as well as identify historical scholarship that does this as well.


When you provide historical context, it should not dominate your paper but rather supplement and inform your main argument. This means that you may use this material (primary and/or secondary) to help frame your introduction, but it is also a good idea to weave small amounts of this material throughout your argument as it helps inform your localized points too.


  1. Engage with the scholarly conversation. When using scholarship in your paper, remember that you are reproducing a conversation and helping your reader understand how your argument is part of something larger, ongoing. You should not use your sources to make your argument for you; nor should you feel compelled to declare a scholar entirely “wrong” in what s/he concludes. Rather, think of your argument as adding something to the ongoing conversation, and so when you cite a scholar (or several scholars in proximity, as you can do) you need still to show how your argument relates (to rebut, refine, reinforce, etc) in a more nuanced way.


*Your paper should have a minimum of 8 sources (not including primary texts, such as our literary/popular texts from class or EEBO texts) from peer-reviewed journals and books. If you have any questions about what constitutes a peer-reviewed source, please feel free to ask me.


  1. An abstract that you will submit (if you do not have another in mind already) to the EGSA conference here on campus and/or another conference that you feel would be relevant. The conference CFP (Call for Papers) will be forthcoming.

What I am looking for as I grade:

  1. A clear and specific thesis that is framed by a well-thought and articulated Introduction.
  2. Body paragraphs that begin with relevant topic sentences that frame the argument (not just general topic) of each paragraph, and that include evidence (historical, textual, etc) to support that argument and analysis of how/why it makes the argument you say it does.
  3. Useful and relevant secondary scholarship that you use to help show how your argument fits into the broader scholarly conversation rather than just to speak for you.
  4. A paper free of grammatical and spelling errors (so use spell check and get appropriate help from the WRC and the MLA Style Guide).


This paper is due Monday, December 9th by noon in my mailbox in the English Dept and is worth 30% of your final grade. Any papers not submitted by noon on Dec 9th will accrue a half-letter grade penalty for each calendar day they are late; and any papers not submitted by Friday, December 13th will receive a grade of zero. Only hard copy submissions will be accepted unless you have pressing circumstances that make traveling to campus to submit it a hardship, in which case we will need to negotiate another form of submission in advance.


I am happy to accept and make comments on drafts of your papers, but if you submit a draft, we will need to conference about it after I have had the opportunity to read/comment. This means that you need to allow me enough time to read and comment and for us to set up an appointment to conference. I will NOT accept drafts that you expect me to comment on and simply return to you.


Meanwhile, please feel free to ask any questions you might have and/or request a meeting with me to discuss your paper at any stage, from thesis development to finding sources to drafting. The best way to reach me is by email:


  1. Participation (10%)

As a graduate seminar, this course remains small to provide you with a more in-depth and intimate learning experience with your classmates and faculty. As such, it is vital that you attend class and participate readily. The material this semester will be difficult for a number of reasons—foreign reading material, challenging theoretical texts, and new subject matter. I am fully aware of that. But I expect you all to push yourselves to think in new ways, which means taking risks. Therefore, it is okay to come to class feeling a bit uncertain, and class discussion will be a forum for our fleshing out complex ideas, of “thought experiments” (in the Einsteineian sense) more than a place where we declare certainties. Because attendance and participation is so important, you may only miss 2 class periods without penalty. Beyond this, you and will need to discuss whether you can reasonably finish the course.

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