Spanish C 203: The Learned Academies of Early Modern France, Italy and Spain and the Emergence of New Understandings of Language and Literature (1500-1800)

Th 1-4PM, DWINELLE 4226 | Instructor: Blocker | CCN: 32526

Units: 4

This seminar comparatively investigates the major learned academies of early modern France, Italy and Spain (1500-1800), focusing specifically on their contributions to the development and study of vernacular languages, as well as on their efforts to define and disseminate new understandings of what we now call “literature”.

Early modern academies were institutions assembling a group of individuals desirous to engage in practices of learning, outside of a university setting.  Some of these sodalities were heavily institutionalized, others were informal.  Some were large, public and mostly subservient to political or religious power.  Others were small, private and subversive.  Their discussions focused on anything from music to physics or theology. But, in many of them, inquiries on language, rhetoric and poetics (i.e. “literary theory”) constituted a central preoccupation.  Given these interests, and the fact that many of these institutions received princely protection, learned academies also played an important in the development of the early modern state — and in that of representations of nationhood more generally.  Yet, academic networks, discourses and ideas also spread rapidly across borders, especially in the south of Europe, contributing to the rapid internationalization of new understandings of both language and literature.

In this seminar, we will investigate the social, political and institutional history several of the most important of these academic institutions by reading both primary and secondary sources, with the aim of better understanding both their social practices and their intellectual productions.  In the process, students will be introduced to the study of rare books and manuscripts produced within these institutions.  In particular, we will ask how examining the materiality of these academic productions could help us better understand why and how linguistics and literary criticism began to emerge in the early modern period.  We will also discuss the question of the extent to which the discursive practices and scholarly paradigms originally developed within early modern academies might continue to shape linguistic, literary and cultural studies to this day.

This seminar is designed for graduate students in the Romance Languages and Literatures (RLL) doctoral program.  It is however also suitable for students in the D. E. in Renaissance and Early Modern Studies (REMS), especially those interested in social history, the history of the book and manuscript studies, literary history, the history of science and the history of ideas.

Knowledge of at least one Romance language (French, Italian or Spanish) is preferable but not compulsory. English will be the main language of the secondary readings, but students in the RLL track will be expected to work through a variety of both primary and secondary sources in French, Italian and Spanish. Specific reading arrangements can be made for students not enrolled in the RLL track. If you are not sure whether this seminar would work well for you or would like to discuss special reading arrangements and/or the possibility of auditing the class, please contact the instructor at