Natalie Zemon Davis Annual Lecture Series 2016 - Writing Cities: Exploring Early Modern Urban Discourse by James Amelang

Open to the Public
Nador u. 15
Wednesday, December 7, 2016 - 5:30pm
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Wednesday, December 7, 2016 - 5:30pm


Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

James S. Amelang studied History and Romance Languages at Oberlin College (BA '74), International Relations at Johns Hopkins-SAIS (MA '76), and History at Princeton University (Ph.D '82). A junior year abroad in Madrid, graduate study in Bologna, and doctoral research in Barcelona laid the foundations of his interest in early modern European history, and after teaching at the University of Florida he settled in Madrid, where he has taught at the Universidad Autónoma since 1989. His principal books are Honored Citizens of Barcelona: Patrician Culture and Class Relations, 1490-1714 (1986); A Journal of the Plague Year: The Diary of the Barcelona Tanner Miquel Parets, 1651 (1991); The Flight of Icarus: Artisan Autobiography in Early Modern Europe (1998); and Parallel Histories: Jews and Muslims in Inquisitorial Spain (2013). The greatest fun he has had as a historian has been to co-author (with Gary McDonogh and Xavier Gil) Twelve Walks through Barcelona's Past (1992). His current project is to complete the Oxford History of Early Modern Spain.


Only one out of every ten early modern Europeans lived in cities. Yet cities were crucial nodes, joining together producers and consumers, rulers and ruled, and believers in diverse faiths and futures. They also generated an enormous amount of writing, much of which focused on civic life itself. Yet despite its obvious importance, historians have paid surprisingly little attention to urban discourse; its forms, themes, emphases and silences all invite further study. These lectures explore various dimensions of how and what early modern citizens wrote about their cities, and offer practical suggestions regarding the different ways historians can approach such a diverse and intriguing textual corpus. At the same time they highlight the extraordinary contribution Natalie Davis has made to our understanding of early modern urban society and culture.

LECTURE 2 - 5.30pm on December 7, 2016


Perhaps the most common adjective used to characterize early modern cities was "beautiful"-- at least when the author was a local citizen. Out-of-towners, however, often had different opinions. This highly visible fissure between insiders and outsiders disguises what little effort either set of urban discoursers made to define what was meant by civic beauty. Reading between the lines of their texts, however, brings to the surface many of the criteria used to judge the appearance of cities. Especially telling is the missed connection between Renaissance architectural theory and how much of the rest of society defined beauty. The lecture closes by suggesting that discourse regarding one city in particular-- Venice-- helped to close this gap, and in so doing contributed to the general transition toward a post-classical aesthetic that marked the later eighteenth century.