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Poetics before Modernity

Seminar Series 2016-17

University of Cambridge

As the original instalment of the Poetics before Modernity project, the series met at Trinity College, Cambridge, throughout the academic year 2016-17, gathering a distinguished international team of scholars to present new work on the history of Western literary theory from antiquity to 1700.  The series featured talks by many of the leading experts in the field: Gavin Alexander (English, Cambridge), Colin Burrow (English, Oxford), Rita Copeland (Classics, English, and Comparative Literature, Pennsylvania), Kathy Eden (English and Classics, Columbia), Roland Greene (English, Stanford), Stephen Halliwell (Classics, St Andrews), Glenn Most (Classics, SNS Pisa), Peter Struck (Classics, Pennsylvania), Jon Whitman (English, Hebrew University of Jerusalem), and Nicolette Zeeman (English, Cambridge). The talks consistently attracted large audiences ranging from undergraduate students to chaired professors, across the disciplines of the literary humanities, in Cambridge and beyond. A volume based on the series, with further invited contributions, is in preparation.

A full list of talks and abstracts is available here.

Testimonials about Poetics before Modernity Seminar Series, 2016-17:

‘One of the liveliest, most stimulating, and intellectually high-powered seminars I've been involved in during 30 years at Cambridge.’

Dr Gavin Alexander (English, Cambridge)

Poetics before Modernity was a remarkable series, both for the quality of the speakers, and because its spread of interest, with attention to the Classical, medieval and early modern periods in rotation, was so unusual and so productive.’

Prof. Helen Cooper (English, Cambridge)

‘This was a superb and tremendously engaging series of talks - hard to pick out a favourite since the quality throughout was so high.’

Dr David Hillman (English, Cambridge)

‘The Poetics before Modernity series has been a rich contribution to Cambridge life over the past year, drawing together an unparalleled group of world-class scholars. It has been without doubt the most intellectually rigorous and exciting forum for discussion across all the faculties that deal with literary study.’

Dr Philip Knox (English, Cambridge)


Poetics before Modernity as one of the most stimulating seminar series I have attended. The organisers put together a dazzling programme of speakers at the forefront of their fields, and the complementarity, as well as the differences of approach between scholars of different literatures and periods, were illuminating. It drew a strikingly large audience, from undergraduates to a remarkably consistent and high number of faculty, from various disciplines in the humanities. The discussion was always lively, and marked genuine conversation and collective thinking between disciplines and periods.’

Dr Kathryn Murphy (English, Oxford)

‘This has been a marvelous and well-attended series: not only did Micha and Vladimir invite a really impressive range of speakers; they also made it possible for Classicists, Medievalists and early Modernists to talk together across what are often in Cambridge fairly fixed period and discipline boundaries - a real achievement.’

Prof. Nicolette Zeeman (English, Cambridge)

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