A Chronicle of the New England Renaissance Conference, part 2: 1959-1969

by Christopher Carlsmith, Meghan Chapman, and Derek Winslow

Rev. 8/22/13

[return to part 1]

The 1959 Conference marked the 20th Anniversary of NERC. The conference would be the last of the twenty-year presidency of Leicester Bradner. Fittingly, the conference was held at Brown University; not only was this Bradner’s alma mater but it was also the first institution to host NERC. The 1959 conference featured the original four speakers from the inaugural conference in 1940: Harcourt Brown, William Constable, Paul Kristeller, and Wallace Ferguson each gave papers upon the theme of “Progress in Renaissance Scholarship in the Last Twenty Years”. The Friday session featured Brown and Constable contributing papers on “The History of Science” and “The History of Art”, respectively. That evening there was a concert of Renaissance Music directed by William Dineen, another long-time NERC member who had served on the advisory committee assisting Bradner in the early years. The Saturday morning session was centered upon Kristeller’s paper on “Humanism” and Ferguson’s contribution regarding “Economic History”.

1960 marked a changing of the guard as Bradner stepped down and Myron Gilmore stepped in as his successor. No conference occurred that year; however, the extant correspondence shows Gilmore preparing to assume his new title as the president of NERC and planning for 1961 through the use of his colleagues, friends, and Ivy League connections. The 1961 conference was held at Harvard and observed the standard two-day format. The first day focused on 15th-century Europe and the second on the 16th century. The overarching theme was that of Humanism; the Friday session opened with papers from Hanna Holborn Gray and Eugene Rice. Gray spoke regarding Lorenzo Valla and his contemporaries, and Rice on Lefevre d’Etaples and his circle. Walter Kaiser spoke in the afternoon session regarding the refinement of satire in Renaissance writings and theatre with a paper entitled, “The Alembic of Satire”. Kaiser’s paper was deliberately chosen to compliment the theatrical presentation of “The Alchemist” given by the Harvard Dramatic Club on Friday evening at the Loeb Theatre. Day Two examined “Italy in the Later Renaissance”. Elizabeth Mongan, an art historian from the Alverthorpe Gallery in Pennsylvania, spoke about a newly-discovered engraving of the Battle of Fornovo and Detlef Heikamp delivered a paper entitled “Florentine Tapestries and Related Drawings”. The conference closed with a paper from Dante Della Terza, a specialist on the Italian playwright Torquato Tasso, regarding Tasso’s experience with Petrarch.

The 1962 conference moved to Williams College, which hosted NERC for the first time. Another first in the 1962 conference was a change in format to a two-day, five-session format with session specific themes. The first Friday session focused upon “The Literature of Siglo de Oro” with papers from Alan Trueblood and A. David Kossoff, both from Brown University. Session two featured a paper on historical manuscripts from Vincent Ilardi of UMASS Amherst entitled “Fifteenth-Century Diplomatic Documents in Western European Archives and Libraries, 1450-1494”. Session three was held in the Lawrence Art Museum and featured renowned art historian John W. Pope-Hennessy speaking on Renaissance bronze statuettes. The Saturday morning session had the theme of “Renaissance Books” and opened with Ray Nash of Dartmouth College and his paper “The Humanist Legacy to Twentieth Century Printers”. The 1962 conference closed with two papers based upon the theme of “The Common Law & Renaissance Culture”. Richard Schoeck of the University of Toronto spoke regarding Thomas More and Philip Finkelpearl of Harvard gave a paper on “The Literary Life of the Middle Temple in the 1590’s”.

The 1963 NERC, organized by David Berkowitz, was held at Brandeis University and seemingly abandoned any structured thematic format. On Friday there was a symposium on the art of the Renaissance followed by the opening of an exhibition called “Major Masters of the Renaissance” at The Rose Museum. Following dinner on Friday the conference reconvened for “Renaissance Dances and Songs”. The second day included presentations of papers from Richard Mora (Yale), Richard Douglas (MIT), Harry Berger (Yale), and Raymond Klibansky (McGill); Berkowitz pioneered the idea of having two discussants for each paper who offered substantive comments. There is no record of the 1964 conference other than the fact that it was held at Smith College; that year marked the end of Myron Gilmore’s tenure as he moved to Italy to become Director of Villa I Tatti, Harvard University’s Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in Florence.

The 1965 conference at Yale followed the 1963 NERC conference structure utilized by Brandeis, in keeping with NERC’s intended informality. The conference opened with a paper from Bernard O’Kelley (Ohio State University) titled “John Colet and the Olde Hoyle Cunnynge Doctours”. O’Kelley was followed by Roland Bainton of Yale, who spoke about Erasmus and his life in Paris, aptly titled in Latin “Vita Erasmi usque ad Lutetiam”. Interestingly, NERC allotted time for a “Business Meeting” during the 1965 conference; this is worth noting because it is the first time since the initial conference that any such “business” was discussed publicly. Doubtless this innovation was introduced by NERC’s new president, David Berkowitz, who assumed office in 1964-65. Friday evening closed with a special exhibition and reception focusing upon the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The Saturday session opened with a talk from Ford Battles and Philip Schaff of the Hartford Theological Seminary. Their talk focused on John Calvin’s commentary on De Clementia of Seneca from 1532 and its implications for Calvin’s later works, based upon its reception. After a brief luncheon the session resumed with Lewis Lockwood (Princeton) and his paper, “Parody, Emulation, Imitation:  Some Aspects of 16th Century Mass”. The conference concluded with a concert.

MIT played host to the 1966 NERC.  Friday opened with a paper entitled “The De tyranno of Salutati:  Tyranny in the XIV and XV Centuries”, given by Ronald Witt of Duke. Craig Thompson (Haverford) gave a paper on “Better Teachers than Scotus or Aquinas:  A Study of Erasmus’ Convivium religiosum”. Following the two papers there was a dinner in honor of Douglas Bush, a literary historian from Harvard, who between 1965-66 published two books regarding Renaissance literature and edited John Milton:  The Complete Poetical Works. In the evening the conference attended a “Special Opening of The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum”. Saturday again focused on a presentation of papers and concluded with another formal NERC business meeting. Saturday’s papers were given by F. Edward Cranz (who would later write a brief history of NERC in 1989 for Renaissance Quarterly) of Connecticut College. Cranz’s ambitious and wide-ranging paper was entitled “The Changing Context of Allegory from the Greeks through the Renaissance”. The second and final paper was from Giorgio de Santillana of MIT on “Archaic Cosmology in Renaissance Literature.” This conference program is also unique because it makes mention of the infamous NERC mailing list and its “errors and omissions” at the end of the program. The attempt to update the mailing list along with the scheduled business meetings show an attempt to have more formal organization within NERC.

The 1967 NERC was again held at Brown. It was largely an Ivy League affair and somewhat returned to the previous two-day three-session format. Friday opened with two papers: Richard Sylvester of Yale gave a paper on “St. Thomas More as a Man of Letters”, and “Biographical Problems of Sir Francis Drake” presented by Thomas Adams of The John Carter Brown Library. Following the traditional Friday evening cocktail party, the conference reconvened in the President’s Room of the Brown Refectory. Here NERC discussed the catastrophic Florence flood, headed by Fred Licht, and was presented with a concert by William Dineen and David Laurent. The Saturday session featured two papers. The first was presented by Anthony Molho (Brown) entitled “Florentine Politics in the Early Renaissance”. The second paper marks the only non-Ivy League presenter of 1967 but neither the topic nor the presenter were far away: Meg Licht of The Rhode Island School of Design gave a paper titled “Making a Scene in Padua”.

The conference of 1968, organized by Ben Kohl and Nick Adams, was held at Vassar College. Although Vassar is technically in New York, NERC had always shown a policy of inclusion with New York institutions like Vassar and Cornell. The conference opened with a paper from Anne Davidson Ferry of Boston College, “Samson Agonistes: The Fort of Silence”. Following Ferry, Richard Harrier (NYU) presented a paper on “Some Conceptual Problems of English Renaissance Literature”. Later that Friday, Marilyn Lavin of Princeton gave a paper on Piero della Francesca’s “Flagellation”. A third paper was presented by Elisabeth Mac Dougall (Boston University) on “Islands, Mountains, and Wilderness in Italian Gardens”. Friday evening concluded with dinner, cocktails and a concert at Vassar’s Skinner Hall. The Saturday session was fairly brief and included two papers. The first from Marvin Becker (University of Rochester) on the delineation of classes in the Renaissance and the second on labor conditions in Florence from Raymond de Roover (Brooklyn College).

The University of Rhode Island played host to the 1969 NERC. Quite contrary to the Vassar conference the URI conference program was meticulously organized. George Osbourne of the University of Rhode Island’s College of Pharmacy outlined Renaissance contributions to understanding of the circulation of blood. James Devereux of UNC presented a paper entitled “Marsilio Ficino and the Idea of Christian Love”. Following dinner and drinks, the conference had a full service at the Christ Episcopal Church that included works of English Renaissance composers accompanied by a choir. The second day opened with a paper from Edward Corbett (Ohio State University) entitled “The Rhetoric of the Open Hand and the Rhetoric of the Closed Fist”. Charles Trinkaus of Central State University in Ohio discussed Humanism in Bologna. Following a lunch break the “Business Meeting” was held again, although no minutes survive. Saturday closed with two papers. Marian Musgrave, also of Central State University, discussed “Sein and Schein in two plays of Jacob Bidermann”. Finally, Richard Neuse (URI) gave a paper entitled, “Hero and Leander:  The Ethics of Atheism”. The Saturday session closed with a cocktail party in which it is notable to mention that “donations accepted” was written on the program. Since NERC collected no dues it relied heavily on host institutions for funding. Other than in the extant archival correspondence requesting private funding from leading members for cocktail budgeting, there is no publicly-documented request for donations until the 1969 conference.

[part 3: 1970-1989]

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