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An Organ for the Seraglio

My essay "An Organ for the Seraglio: Thomas Dallam's Artificial Life" is now forthcoming from Renaissance Studies. It focuses on a travel narrative from the late 1590s, when Elizabeth I and the Levant Company hoped to advance their diplomatic and mercantile agendas in the Mediterranean with the gift of a splendid mechanical organ to the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed III. Thomas Dallam, who was charged with installing this fully automated instrument in the Ottoman court, wrote a lively narrative of his journey, including his personal encounter with the Sultan. My article argues that Dallam is more complex and suggestive writer than scholars have acknowledged, producing not a plainspoken account of his journey but a suggestive sense of belonging among the humans and machines in the Ottoman seraglio. Fueled by a combination of artisan class identity, technological wonder, anxieties about cultural difference, and an expanding sense of personal vulnerability, Dallam imagines a new life at the Topkapı Palace, integrated within an exquisite system of mechanical artifice.

Tenure and promotion

I'm pleased to say that I have been promoted to associate professor with tenure! I am very fortunate to have the assurances that tenure affords -- intellectual freedom, job security, and the privilege to be able to determine my own agenda in research, teaching, and service to campus and the profession. We live in a world full of bias and misinformation, and it is crucial for scholars to be able to pursue their work on their own terms. I'm grateful to the many friends and colleagues who have supported me toward this goal.

Songscapes conference and beta site launch

The Early Modern Songscapes conference was a smashing success, with 34 wonderful papers and the official launch of -- our website exploring Henry Lawes's 1653 songbook Ayres and Dialogues. The site features digital editions of the songs including musical notation and lyrics, plus audio performances and high-resolution images of primary sources for selected songs and variants. Please have a look at the site and let us know what you think by filling out this survey.

I came away from the conference with a warm feeling of esprit de corps among scholars on English Renaissance song. I heard many good ideas for new directions for the study of musico-poetic intersections, including new ways of describing song's migration through texts and cultural contexts -- not just intertexuality or allusion but remixing, sampling, "snatching," and reveling in musical marvel and wonder. One collective conviction that emerged was the need for close and ongoing dialogue between scholars and performers. Another was the importance of an expanded conception of the history of texts, with special attention to fragmentation and gaps in the archive. See the Twitter stream here, and stay tuned for video recordings of the three keynote talks, which we will post on Warm thanks to all conference contributors.

The Intermedia Restoration

The Fall 2018 special issue of Restoration is here, guest edited by me and featuring essays by Amanda Eubanks Winkler, Thomas Ward, Sharon J. Harris, and Stephanie Koscak. Our aim is to extend the interdisciplinary conversation in media studies back in time, before the nineteenth century and later periods to which it is typically bound. The English Restoration—a period of media novelty upon media novelty, from periodicals and novels to genre painting, opera, and a newly cosmopolitan stage—warrants a fuller role in this conversation. The essays in this issue speak very nicely to each other, showing how the concept of intermediation helps to describe the extensive collaboration and competition among media that we see in dramatick opera, sung and recited neoclassical verse, engraved playing cards, and other Restoration texts and art forms. Click here for a copy of my introduction.

Early Modern Songscapes update

The digital humanities project for which I am a co-principal investigator is nearing the completion of its “beta” phase, which has two major components. The first is to launch our prototype website, which features an edition of Henry Lawes’s 1653 Ayres and Dialogues for One, Two, and Three Voices (including both text and musical notation), original and professional quality audio recordings of selected songs, an interface for visualizing variants, selected high-resolution images of the source text, and contextual materials. We chose this particular songbook both for its importance in the early modern “air” tradition that is our focus and because it is a text of great interest to scholars of the history of English poetry and music that has no modern edition. The website will be launched in February 2019.

The website launch coincides with the other main component of our beta phase, namely a symposium on intermedia approaches to song that will be held at the University of Toronto on February 8-9, 2019. This international, interdisciplinary conference will include musical recital and performer talkback sessions; keynote speakers Patricia Fumerton, Whitney Trettien, and Amanda Eubanks Winkler; and 35 accepted papers from scholars in early modern literature, music, and performance studies. It promises to be a major event in the field.

My co-PIs on project are Katherine Larson (English, University of Toronto) and Sarah Williams (Music History, University of South Carolina). Over the past two years, we have been working closely with Raffaele Viglianti, a research programmer at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, on the music and text encoding as well as our Javascript tool for visualizing song texts and musical notation. Our website infrastructure developed by and housed in the Digital Scholarship Unit of the University of Toronto, Scarborough Libraries.

The Intermedia Restoration Conference

Together with my colleague Laura Rosenthal, I am organizing a one-day conference that takes the interdisciplinary conversation in media history back to an especially vibrant intersection: the English Restoration, c. 1660-1700. This period of media novelty upon media novelty included newspapers, novels, still life, landscape painting, opera, and a newly cosmopolitan stage featuring female actors. The dynamic interactions across Restoration media were crucial to what made them appear to be so “new.” The conference, to be held on February 16, 2018, will feature William Germano, Stuart Sherman and Amanda Eubanks Winkler, and it will serve as the basis for a special issue of the journal Restoration: Studies in English Literary Culture, 1660-1700. I will be guest editing this special issue, to be published in Fall 2018.

Beyond Materiality in Shakespeare Studies

At MLA in January 2018, I will be presenting as part of a panel I organized together with Jim Knapp, which also features Colleen Rosenfeld and Adam Rzepka. Our aim is to focus attention on what the new materialism has lost, forgotten, ignored, and overwritten. Using Shakespeare as our touchstone, we attend to what is not and cannot be covered by the mantra of the material. Rather than continue to expand working definitions of material culture, that is, we ask what happens when we reject materiality as the threshold for meaningful evidence. In particular, we show how performance theory, feminism, and historical cognition help us speak about intangible, indirect, dispersed, abstract, and virtual dimensions of theatricality and poetics. My own paper will argue that the changeling boy in A Midsummer Night's Dream can be conceived as a "medium," helping open up a fresh understanding of the play’s famous inquiry into “shaping fantasies” and that which enacts them. Paper abstracts are available here.

Queer Meter

In the spring of 2017, I co-led a seminar at the Shakespeare Association of America conference on queer ways of “measuring” language. We asked: what non-normative temporalities do meter and versification invite and uncover? How might queer theory and gender studies allow us to return to afresh to “feminine” rhyme, Sapphic verse, the Marlovian line, and other of the period’s metrical kinks? How might disability studies afford another look at Orlando’s “lame” feet or other depictions of versifying as embarrassing or shameful? How might book history and media studies allow us to re-imagine what counts as verse in the first place, and how it is queered through editing and adaptation? And how does Shakespeare’s meter order time or undermine temporal order? Building on period conceptions of meter as quantified language, we are especially interested in how versification functions as a technology for measuring time: regulating it, dividing it, syncopating it, or otherwise giving it shape.

MLA 2016

I'm looking forward to the Modern Language Association conference in Austin, TX, where I am participating on a panel with Claire Bourne and Megan Heffernan, called "Deranged Verse: Inter-Media Arrangement in Early Modern England." Reid Barbour will chair the panel and give a response paper; my paper is entitled "Milton the Lady, Milton the Cavalier." Have a look at our panel description and abstracts here (session 740 on the program).

Collaborative Project award

The edited collection Gender and Song in Early Modern England, to which I contributed the opening essay, has won honorable mention from the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women for the best collaborative project of 2014. Have a look at a review of the collection here.

The Sounds of Pageantry

My essay "The Sounds of Pageantry" has just been published on the Map of Early Modern London website The piece offers an introduction to the soundscape of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century royal entries and Lord Mayor’s Shows, which resounded with the piercing blares of trumpets, the clamor of boisterous crowds, the poetry of dramatic performances, and the melodies of virtuosic child singers. It shows how diaries, treatises, plays, poems, and livery company account books can help convey the rich variety of noises that echoed through the streets of London on pageant days. It was a lot of fun to write -- in a style intended for a non-specialist audience including students -- and it features a recording of my colleague Stanley Plumly reading a song from one of Thomas Dekker's pageants.

Staging Poiesis

This year at the Shakespeare Association of America conference in Vancouver, BC, I co-led a seminar with Thomas Ward (Assistant Professor of English, US Naval Academy) focused on how various acts of "making" are represented in Shakespeare. An incredibly smart group of folks working on topics ranging from dance to mathematics to necromancy registered, and we ran a blog aimed at stimulating new, collaborative ideas for several months in advance of the conference. In Vancouver we had a lively discussion about issues including the semiotics of drama, the perceptual modes of playing, the relationship between page and stage, processes of authorial self-fashioning, and the material habits and conditions of playing and literary production. The group was especially interested in moments when diverse types of poiesis intersect, combining and hybridizing musical, gestural, verbal and other types of making: have a look at the seminar description and abstracts for further details.

"Performing Women in English Books of Ayres"

The collection Gender and Song in Early Modern England is just out from Ashgate. Edited by Leslie Dunn and Katherine Larson, it features eleven essays about the gendered practices and spaces surrounding song. My contribution is an essay about female performers' participation in the profusion of lute songbooks between 1597 and 1622 (access it here). These "table books" including music and verse, by poets and composers including Thomas Campion and John Dowland, were designed so that performers could gather around an open copy (see an example). Marketed to be performed in domestic settings including women, books of ayres, as they were called, marked a new, dynamic site for female performers to shape poetic and musical culture.


In collaboration with Ellen Mackay, I have started a Tumblr site that draws attention to what is fragmented, ephemeral and lost in digital approaches to the early modern period. Digital tools tend to give an impression of completeness, promising a new horizon of quantification and preservation. We proceed from the idea that, if digitization is the tip of the iceberg, the ice melted long ago. The site is inspired by the Summer 2013 NEH Institute 'Early Modern Digital Agendas' at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Ellen and I have several posts up so far, most recently my reflection on the music of the child fairies who pinch Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor, and the tendency for songs to vanish from early modern playtexts.

Lecture at the IRH, October 2014

On October 20, I gave a lecture at the Institute for Research in the Humanities here in Madison about my current book project, incorporating some of the material on singing boys and sexual abuse that I'm working on now. Presenting my work to scholars across a range of humanities disciplines (from anthropologists to philosophers) and hearing their responses was very helpful. Specialization in the academy can sometimes lead to a feeling of insularity, and it's a useful exercise to try to explain one's project to folks in different fields.

Solmsen Fellow at the University of Wisconsin, 2014-15

I am excited to have been awarded a Solmsen Fellowship for the academic year at the University of Wisconsin Institute for Research in the Humanities. I will be in residence in Madison for the duration of the fellowship, participating in the intellectual life of the Institute and finishing my book about song and mediation in early modern England. With weekly seminars focused on fellows' projects and full institutional support, this is an ideal setting for research. I will be back at the University of Maryland in the fall of 2015.

Teaching Shakespeare Institute, July 2014

This July I will be a visiting scholar for the Teaching Shakespeare Institute at the Folger Shakespeare Library. I'll be leading a lunchtime colloquium on music in Twelfth Night, focusing on how I incorporate song and sound into teaching. Institute participants can view the links mentioned in the colloquium here.

Sound+, March 27-29, 2014

This year I have been co-organizing a major conference in sound studies, multimodal scholarship and the cultural history of listening. Bringing together leading scholars who have helped to reconceive the relationship between sound and text, the conference directs attention to cultures, contexts and objects previously analyzed through approaches that privileged the eye. Workshops, poster sessions, plenary lectures, panels and even an interdisciplinary conversation including neurobiologists will ask how writing encodes or remediates sound, how sound reshapes politics, and how literature is shaped by acoustic technologies from voice to byte.

Graduate teaching, Spring 2014

I'm looking forward to teaching "Early Modern Media," a course on philosophies of communication and Renaissance literature. The readings place texts including Sidney’s Arcadia, Spenser’s Faerie Queene and Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair alongside theorists ranging from Plato, Augustine and Locke to Jussi Parikka, Bruno Latour and N. Katherine Hayles. We'll look at the processes, technologies and cultural protocols that shape literary texts as they move through manuscript leafs, printed books, musical performances, open-air amphitheaters, indoor playhouses, outdoor pageants and more. Have a look at the syllabus here.

Early Modern Theatricality, from Oxford University Press, is just out (Winter 2014)

Each of the essays in this volume takes up a key formal component of early modern playing – an adventurous concept, distilled into one word, that aims at an “exploded view” of the structures and imaginative resources of the theater. My contribution, “Occasion,” takes up outdoor pageantry as an example of the propensity of the theater to extend wildly across space and time. Download a copy of my essay here.

Early Modern Media Ecologies, Modern Language Association, Chicago, January 2014

This winter, I'll be speaking in an MLA panel on the profoundly interactive relationship among diverse media in early modern England. Bringing together young scholars who specialize in Renaissance literary studies and the digital humanities, the panel will use new media to reflect on early modern media hybridities. Our presentations will show how sixteenth- and seventeenth-century literature is at once biological and technological – how actors, printers, musicians and needleworkers participated in literary processes that cannot be limited to writing. Read Jen Boyle's response paper to the panel here.

"Multimodal Sidney: Digital Curation and Early Modern Poïesis," November 2013

On November 8, I'll be giving a lecture in a colloquium called Digital Humanities / Early Modern Texts at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. My presentation will show how audio- and image-rich web interfaces offer a means of exploring early modern poetic and musical culture, including William Byrd's musical settings of Philip Sidney's verse. The digital humanities present an opportunity to bring out the kinds of interactivity among media sites that would have been intuitive to the Sidney Circle. You can view the links mentioned in my presentation here.

Early Modern Digital Agendas, July 2013

I'm excited to be participating in the NEH-funded Early Modern Digital Agendas at the Folger Shakespeare Library this month. This three-week institute will act as a kind of lab for current and emergent digital and online projects, allowing scholars to communicate and collaborate on research that moves into new media spaces. The institute also offers the opportunity to theorize and evaluate the current state of the digital humanities, specifically as they intersect with early modern literary studies. Follow us on Twitter #EMDA13.

"'Effeminate Carriage': Gendered Performance in Thomas Campion's Lute Songs"

On April 26, I'll be giving a presentation on Thomas Campion’s "books of ayres," or songbooks for lute and voice, and their fascination with ambiguously gendered singing voices. Designed for a domestic performance milieu that included women, Campion's songs betray uneasiness about a poet and a composer's capacity to determine gender and to control performance. Through their dynamic, collaborative mode of production, books of ayres enabled female performers to shape poetic and musical culture.

"'Unto the World's Ear': Wyatt's Psalms Beyond the Court," Spring 2013

My article on Thomas Wyatt's Penitential Psalms is now out in the spring issue of Studies in Philology: you can download it here. I argue that the fluid relationship between the coterie manuscript practices and wider print readerships that came into contact with Wyatt’s paraphrase of the penitential psalms helps to situate his work within a broader interpretive milieu than the Henrican Court. The Psalms themselves bear out this context by dramatizing a desire to reach readers and listeners beyond the monarch. Wyatt’s poem fashions an interlocutory, adaptable mode of address that displaces David’s own voice and opens it to communal reception.

Conferences, Spring 2013

I'll be presenting new work at two conferences this semester that I expect to incorporate into my book project. Both papers concentrate on the medium of the boy's singing voice and its relationship to the extra-dramatic music of children's companies. For the Shakespeare Association of America, my paper (abstract here) focuses on the ways in which boy actors' bodies are, in phenomenological terms, extended or attenuated through song. My talk for the Renaissance Society of America (abstract here) will look at how music challenges our conceptions of the boundaries or outlines of theatrical representation.

Teaching, Spring 2013

My courses this spring are "Shakespeare: The Early Works" (from Titus Andronicus to The Merchant of Venice) and "Critical Methods in the Study of Literature" (the introductory English major course at the University of Maryland). I put a lot of emphasis on verse in both of these courses because this helps students to develop close reading skills and to grapple with formal and figurative dimensions of language. Shakespeare's Sonnets and Venus and Adonis also serve as a way of wedging open the relationship between poetry and performance in his early career.

Ben Jonson and Literary Form, Fall 2012

On November 5, I'll be giving a lecture on the category of "form" in relation to the work of Ben Jonson. I will speak about what Jonson means by the "invention," "soul," "fable" and "fiction" of an artwork, how he stakes out the form of masques and pageants including the 1604 Magnificent Entertainment for King James, and how we might refine our terminology for form in literary and cultural studies. The event is sponsored by the Graduate Field Committee in Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Maryland.

Teaching, Fall 2012

This fall I am teaching two early modern drama courses: "Shakespeare, The Early Works" and "Shakespeare and His Contemporaries." Both courses ask how embodied performance became such a vibrant medium in the course of the 1590s and into the seventeenth century -- and both courses work to situate Shakespeare among his peers and competitors. You can gather a sense of the issues we are exploring by visiting our course blogs and viewing my syllabi.

Early Modern Theatricality, Winter 2011

I recently participated in a conference that brought together twenty-five scholars of early modern drama to rethink the state of the field. Each contributor was charged with defining an essential formal component of early modern playing – an adventurous concept, distilled into one word, that aims at an “exploded view” of the structures and imaginative resources of the theater. My contribution, “Occasion,” takes up outdoor pageantry as an example of the propensity of the theater to extend wildly across space and time. The essays are forthcoming in a collection edited by Henry S. Turner and published by Oxford University Press.

Performing the Book, Spring 2011

Last spring I organized a conference entitled “Performing the Book: Multi-Media Histories of Early Modern Britain”: a summit of some of the leading scholars of early modern sound studies. Have a look at our conference blog, which includes a synopsis of the papers, and our spiffy conference poster. Our aim was to open up new ways of thinking about intersections of pen, print, sound and performance during the period, addressing the following questions:

How can scholarship on acoustic and performative multi-media in early modern Britain contribute to or intervene in methodologies associated with the history of the book? How can we theorize the categories of “book” and “text” in relation to the circulation and performance of sound? How can studies of the early modern acoustic world nuance the received wisdom about bibliographic and literary cultures and traditions? What media technologies and protocols were understood as new during this period, and how were they associated with literary, musical, or theatrical collectives? What does early modern aural performance tell us, or ask us to reconsider, about the hybridity of media from Gutenberg to Google?