Family in the Renaissance

What does family mean? How does the concept of family shape individual lives, governments and society?

The broad and deep influence of historical ideas about families will be the focus of the upcoming New England Renaissance Conference scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011, from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., at Wheaton College.

“Expanding Relations: Family in the Renaissance” was co-organized by art history professor Touba Ghadessi and history professor Yuen-Gen Liang, who recently published the book Family and Empire (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011).

In conjunction with the conference, the Beard and Weil Galleries will host the exhibition “The Art of Intellectual Community: Early Modern Objects and Pedagogy” highlighting Wheaton’s collection of Renaissance art. Liang and Ghadessi co-curated the exhibition, which exemplifies how art objects are used hand-in-hand with classroom instruction to enrich student learning. The opening reception for the exhibition will be Friday, Nov. 11, 2011, at 6 p.m.

The Renaissance conference is directly tied to the themes and pedagogies of several Wheaton classes, including art history courses on relations between patrons, artists, and the visual expression of rulership; the “Renaissance and Reformation” history course, stressing relationships between individuals and communities; and two First Year Seminar courses taught by professors Ellen McBreen and Kim Miller.

“Linking the conference to the gallery and to coursework has created a unique opportunity for undergraduates to explore current academic research,” noted Professor Ghadessi, who is working on a book manuscript titled Collecting Monsters in the Renaissance. Her work focuses on the ways in which human monstrousness and physical deformity were represented, categorized and interpreted in the various Italian and French courts of the late Renaissance.

Since 1939, the New England Renaissance Conference has been held annually at one of the region’s universities, including most recently at Yale, Boston, Wesleyan, Brown and the University of Connecticut, for the exchange and celebration of academic research.

“We’re in very good company,” said Professor Liang. “And we’re further distinguished by the fact that very few liberal arts colleges have organized the conference in recent years. For Touba and me, it is an opportunity to directly demonstrate how top-notch academic research can be brought to our liberal arts college campus and combined with our own to make a critical impact on the education of our undergraduate students.”

Noted scholars from the New England region, including faculty from Tufts, Boston College and Wesleyan University, have been invited to present their scholarship and talk about all facets of family and its effects in a world of changing politics, societies, knowledge, art and self-awareness.

At the conference, Anthony Grafton, 2011 president of the American Historical Association and Henry Putnam University Professor of History at Princeton University, is scheduled to give the keynote address. A world renowned scholar of early modern and medieval history spanning Europe, the Mediterranean world, and the Americas, Grafton is the author of more than 30 books and one of the most distinguished historians of his generation. Among numerous awards, he has won a Guggenheim Fellowship (1989), the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (1993), the Balzan Prize for History of the Humanities (2002), and the Mellon Foundation’s Distinguished Achievement Award (2003).

Wheaton Provost Linda Eisenmann will be on hand to welcome guests to campus, as will New England Renaissance Conference president Tara Nummedal, associate professor of history at Brown University and a recent recipient of fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the Guggenheim Foundation.

For more information and to register, please visit