SRS Postdoctoral Fellows 2020-2021

July 26, 2020
By news updates

The Fellowships Committee is pleased to announce Michael Bennett, Kaye McLelland, Aislinn Muller, and Valerio Zanetti have been awarded Postdoctoral Fellowships for 2020-2021. We received 91 applications this year and, as ever, the field was exceptionally strong.


Michael Bennett, ‘Caribbean Slavery, Sugar Profits, and the Financial Revolution, 1640-1700’

This project will provide the first comprehensive study of the financial impact of Caribbean slavery on early modern England and her empire between 1640 and 1700. This was an important period in the economic history of England and the American colonies: it spans the decades in which English participation in transatlantic commerce increased markedly and the financial revolution occurred. The first aim of the project is to trace where the capital generated by the sale of slave-grown produce from the Caribbean was reinvested in the English Empire, and to quantify the amounts of money involved. The second major aim is to investigate what role (if any) the profits of sugar and slavery played in funding the establishment of credit institutions in England, in order to establish whether the Caribbean plantation system helped to precipitate the financial revolution.

Kaye McLelland, ‘Early Modern Preaching and the Body’

This project investigates the representation of disability and the body in late Elizabethan and early Jacobean printed sermons. Preachers’ rhetorical and linguistic style on the subject of non-standard bodies, at an historical moment of heightened interest in the interpretation and translation of biblical texts, was often at odds with their pastoral duty towards the disabled people in their communities. Furthermore, the printing of sermons served to codify what would initially have been ephemeral: spoken word choices, translation choices, metaphors, and intertextual stock phrases, in ways that had a long-lasting impact on attitudes to the body and, in particular, to disabled bodies. This research will examine printed sermons on Jacob’s limp (Genesis 32), on ‘lame’ Mephibosheth (2 Samuel), and the theological and cultural implications of preachers’ word choices when discussing the incarnation and the body of Christ. It will include preachers with a variety of theological standpoints. William Perkins, for example, was a cleric who was himself disabled with a maimed hand; he used many metaphors of medicine and the body, in sermons including A Salue for a sick man (1611). Thomas Draxe used similar metaphors in sermons including The Sicke-Man’s Catechisme (1609). Lancelot Andrewes, a highly influential preacher and skilled linguist, preached extensively on the nativity. Thomas Adams, a less well-known and under-researched Calvinist priest, preached extensively on Mephibosheth. The project will ask how the language of preaching influenced or reflected cultural and religious attitudes to disability, and to what extent it continues to influence perceptions of the moral and inspirational status of disabled people.

Aislinn Muller, ‘Object Devotions: Sacred Materials and Political Subversion in England, ca. 1570-1660’

My project proposes to determine the scope and nature of political participation amongst religious dissenters in post-Reformation England by examining the material cultures of these groups. Its specific aim is to investigate the circulation and political significance of Catholic sacred objects which were outlawed by post-Reformation regimes. From 1570, the government banned Catholic devotional objects and imposed stiff penalties for collecting them, fearing that these objects signalled allegiance to the pope and therefore a threat to the Protestant establishment. Despite the harsh penalties imposed for the possession of Catholic materials, English Catholics continued to circulate them and employ them in devotions. These objects functioned as devotional aids, protective charms, jewellery, and as symbols of religious identity. However, Catholics also began using sacred objects in bolder acts of resistance, as for example when John Somerville wore an agnus dei during his attempt to assassinate the queen in 1583. This project will have two main components. First it will consider the means of production and geographical distribution of sacred objects. Employing case studies of surviving items, I will assess the materials from which sacred objects were crafted, considering the supernatural as well as social significance associated with these materials. I will examine how entities such as the papacy, missionaries, travellers between England and the continent, religious houses, and Catholic laity in England participated in the circulation of sacred objects. The second part will investigate the circulation and use of sacred objects as an act of subversion in post-Reformation political culture. By assessing the political significance of sacred materials, this project will illuminate a dimension of Christian materiality which is crucial to understanding how religion can inform political expression in different contexts.

Valerio Zanetti, ‘Medical and Pedagogic Conceptions of Female Athleticism in Europe between 1500 and 1700’

Recent historical approaches to early modern sport emphasise the need to complement studies of specific games and activities with a broader understanding of exercise as a medical practice. According to Galenism, the management of corporeal movement played a crucial role in maintaining physical and emotional balance. Ambiguities inherent to the humoral definition of female anatomy, however, have rendered it difficult to reconcile discrepancies between seemingly conservative prescriptions and the development of more liberal practices. While the debate concerning intellectual equality between the sexes has been the object of much scholarly attention, the study of early modern women’s physical training remained comparatively neglected. Even the influential feminine ideal of the ‘strong woman’ has generally been examined as a moral construct disconnected from contemporary notions of female physical strength. To shed new light on the role of exercise in preserving women’s wellbeing, I will carry out a systematic survey of health regimens, both in Latin and the vernacular, as well as medical tracts dealing with female anatomy and reproductive health. I will then study prescriptive views of female exercise discussed in conduct literature, moral publications and pedagogic treatises dealing with women’s education. Tracking differences alongside significant areas of overlap between male and female physical training, my research questions traditional binary views and proposes a more comprehensive perspective that reveals the interplay between gender and social, racial and geographic factors. By examining theoretical views of female exercise, this project lays a solid foundation for further research into women’s involvement in various athletic activities across early modern Europe.

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