Penn StateCollaert, after Stradanus
Hans the younger Collaert, after Stradanus, attributed Flemish Title page for Nova Reperta (New Discoveries) c. 1580. Courtesy of The Palmer Museum of Art, The Pennsylvania State University

Committee for Early Modern Studies

Mission Statement

Director, 2014-15:

Robin L. Thomas, Associate Professor of Art History

Our mission is to help Penn State fulfill the potential of global, comparative, interdisciplinary study in the period 1400-1850. We aim to create the conditions in which students and faculty can work in the unexplored interstices between disciplines. True interdisciplinarity—in which a scholar demonstrates genuine fluency in two or more disciplinary vocabularies, and grasps what is at stake in the differences between them—is rare. Such fluency requires a hard-earned ability to “translate” across disciplines. The challenge is to find where (in a topical sense), and in what terms, contact and exchange can occur across scholarly boundaries.

Founded in 1996, the Committee for Early Modern Studies (CEMS) has maintained a strong presence through team-taught courses and on-campus events – talks, workshops, symposia, reading groups, contests, and social gatherings. Above all, we aim to involve faculty and graduate students in events that produce and showcase interdisciplinary early modern scholarship. Current faculty and graduate student members are drawn from the Departments of Art History, English, French and Francophone Studies, German and Slavic Languages and Literatures, History, Music, Philosophy, and Spanish/ Italian/Portuguese; and we maintain strong ties to other campus units, including Penn State’s Center for American Literary Studies, Max Kade German-American Research Institute, the Asian Studies Program, and the Department of Women’s Studies.

CEMS actively supports the research of graduate students with two annual competitions.  First, in partnership with Penn State's Institute for the Arts and Humanities, we offer an annual Junior Scholar Award in early modern studies, which provides a semester release time from teaching, a research stipend, and an office in Ihlseng Cottage. Second, we also present an annual prize for the best paper delivered at a conference, hence helping to support graduate student professional development.

Our geography is global. We are interested in the cultural, social and political implications of early modern trade, exploration, and colonization. We encourage trans-national thinking about a past consisting of distinct, but also increasingly inter-connected “Early Modernities,” not only between Europe, Asia, the Pacific and the Americas, but within each of these regions as well. Two edited volumes have come out of our work so far – each also the result of a CEMS on-campus conference:

Europe Observed coverMonstrous Bodies/ Political Monstrosities
Europe Observed: Multiple Gazes in Early Modern Encounters - Monstrous Bodies/Political Monstrosities in Early Modern Europe