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Theater and Judgment in Early Modern England: A Four-Year SNSF Project

I've received a grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) to direct a four-year collaborative project entitled "Theater and Judgment in Early Modern England." Below is a brief description. I'm excited to get started on this work.

Ever since Aristotle, the faculty of judgment has been deemed an essential component of what makes humans human. Other living entities can feel, perceive, and physically react to sensory information, but only humans can break this information into discrete units, assess their implications, and then form an idea or will an action in response to that information. This latter process is judgment, and it is central to some of the most foundational elements of human society, including participatory politics, secular law, and experimental science. Up to this point, the early modern period in England has been neglected in scholarly work on judgment. The focus, instead, has been on eighteenth-century philosophy and literature, sometimes with attention given to ancient or contemporary contexts as well. This SNSF project, “Theater and Judgment in Early Modern England,” will address this gap for the first time, placing particular emphasis on the crucial role of theater in the development of judgment. The project’s working hypothesis is that plays and performances disseminated techniques of judgment among a broad audience of playgoers and readers. Understanding how this process worked will change received critical narratives about the history of judgment more broadly.

This project will involve three primary collaborators: the applicant and two PhD researchers. Each PhD researcher will spend a semester in the UK working with a specialist in their subfield. These specialists are Prof. Greg Walker (University of Edinburgh) and Prof. Emma Smith (Oxford University). Together, the three primary collaborators will produce four main research outputs: (1) A book written by the applicant provisionally titled, Theater and Judgment in the Age of Shakespeare, which will focus on the commercial drama of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. (2) A PhD thesis written by PhD Researcher 1 provisionally titled, Theater and Judgment in Tudor England, which will concentrate on the non-commercial theater of the long sixteenth century (1485-1603). (3) A second PhD thesis written by PhD Researcher 2 provisionally titled, Printed Drama and the Culture of Judgment in Early Modern England, which will range across the periods covered by the other two projects and focus on printed texts rather than on performance. (4) A volume of essays co-edited by all three collaborators provisionally titled, Cultures of Judgment in the Early Modern World, which will be developed out of papers presented at an interdisciplinary conference of the same name to be held at the University of Lausanne.

Taken together, the book, the two PhD theses, and the collection of essays will provide the first comprehensive and fully contextualized account of the theory and practice of judgment in early modern England, one which highlights the central, and heretofore neglected, role of theater. In doing so, the project will also have two broader impacts: (1) it will bring to light new ways of understanding the role of early modern English theater in the development of forms of thought that underpin participatory politics, secular law, and experimental science; (2) it will change the way scholars understand the larger story of judgment as it unfolds between Aristotle and the present day.


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