The Profession of Writing: Categories of Authorship in Renaissance Europe

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in workshop, seminar, course


What did it mean to call yourself a poet, a polymath, a philologos, a man of letters, a translator, or a prosateur during the long sixteenth century? How did writers define themselves and their peers, collaborators, or rivals? How far were categories of authorship inherited from classical models, from the middle ages, or with origins in the learned, Latinate professions (grammaticus, literatus, criticus, interpres, and philosophus) appropriated or rejected by those working in the penumbra between the learned and the popular, the space of vernacular humanism? And to what degree did the acceptance or rejection of a particular label, or indeed the choice to disguise authorship through anonymity or to claim it by occluding the work of hidden hands, depend on socio- economic status, institutional allegiance, or membership of international, national, or regional networks? Scholarship over the past two decades has altered our understanding of Renaissance authorship dramatically. Scholars have brought to life the intricate networks of patronage, publishing, and readership that underpinned the production of books and have revealed the role played by commerce and collaboration in the conception as well as the reception and dissemination of print culture.1 It has become clear how complex and fascinating a pre-history there is to the narrative of the genesis of the writer offered by Alain Viala’s landmark sociological literary history of the 17th century, the Naissance de l’écrviain (1985), and to the professionalization of writing in the 18th century explored by Geoffrey Turnovsky’s The Literary Market: Authorship and Modernity in the Old Regime (Philadelphia, 2010).2 At the same time, in part encouraged by the attention paid to paratexts, reflections on the ethos of authorship have become a standard expectation of studies of Renaissance writers; case studies proliferate of the ways in which individual authors negotiate disciplinary and generic identities.3 In these, the question of how authors name themselves and others is a recurrent but incidental concern. Yet a more overarching story remains to be written on the resonances and status of categories of authorship in this productive, inventive, and competitive period in the history of print culture. To begin collaborative work on this question, a small group of invited scholars will gather to ask a deceptively simple question: what did writers in print call themselves, and others, and why? What can the names used to designate particular forms of authorship tell us about the expectations, associations, and status of different forms of writing in this seminal period for the development of literary culture?
The workshop will depart from conventional models of academic meeting to swap the presentation of individual research papers with group reading and discussion; the intention is to put scholars from different areas and disciplines of Renaissance Studies into contact and to provide a forum for exploratory and collaborative work, both at these workshops and beyond. Each participant is asked to choose a short extract from a primary text that s/he thinks interesting or provocative on conceptions of authorship in the period (with an accompanying translation into English due to the varied language expertise of our group). This will be distributed in advance of the workshop. At the meeting, each contributor will offer a five-minute introduction to their chosen primary- text extract. This is very much NOT intended to be a miniature research paper, but to be a means of pointing out how and why the text might be significant (whether exemplary, idiosyncratic, baffling, or intriguing), and to invite discussion of it from the variety of perspectives that the varied disciplinary and linguistic affiliations of the group allows.
Period22 Jun 2018
Event typeWorkshop
LocationBristolShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational