Workshop in the  History of  Material Texts
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Welcome to the website for the University of Pennsylvania's Workshop in the History of Material Texts! Here you can find announcements about upcoming events as well as a searchable database of seminars we have held since the fall of 1996.


Our next workshop of the spring semester will be on February 24th. It will feature Nancy Vickers (Bryn Mawr) who will be presenting on "The Problem of ‘Seeing’: When Secondary Becomes Primary."

This talk takes as its point of departure an early essay in which I examined an ekphrastic moment in the tenth canto of Dante’s Purgatorio. As Dante the pilgrim and Virgil arrive on the first terrace of active purgation, they see a sequence of stunning marble reliefs on the mountain wall before them. The last of these represents the emperor Trajan giving justice to a widow, a gesture of humility so powerful that it is said to have inspired Gregory the Great to pray (successfully!) for Trajan’s salvation. In recounting this miracle, the Lives of Gregory often posit the locus of this event to be Trajan’s forum; its specific site, “his statue.” In pursuing the open question of what Gregory saw (if anything), I focus on the Column of Trajan and on the challenge attendant to seeing it. Tourists, art historians and archeologists alike attest to the impossibility of reading the Column, and we will thus review centuries of workarounds (drawings, engravings, casts, photographs, stop-action animation, 3-D digital modeling) as we discuss this most puzzling material text.

Nancy J. Vickers is both President Emeritus and Professor Emeritus of French, Italian, and Comparative Literature at Bryn Mawr College (1997-2008). She previously taught at Dartmouth and at the University of Southern California. Vickers is a scholar in the fields of literary and cultural studies. Her interests range from Dante to Renaissance poetry to the transformations of the lyric genre as a result of changing technologies. She is the author of a broad array of articles and the co-editor of multiple volumes, including Rewriting the Renaissance: The Discourses of Sexual Difference in Early Modern Europe and A New History of French Literature. From 2009 to 2014 she was President of the Dante Society of America.


See our events page for the full schedule for this academic year. We hope to see you at the seminar!