Newberry Library Grad Student Conference in Renaissance Studies, A Reflection

Interested in graduate student conferences? Read first-year MAE student Melissa Smith’s take on the Newberry Center for Renaissance Students conference, which she attended in late January.

The Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton St, hosted the Newberry Center for Renaissance Students 2011 Multidisciplinary Graduate Student Conference from Jan. 27–29, drawing students from all over, including two of DePaul’s Masters in English students—Brianna Tonner and Diana Anderson.

I don’t know how many of you have been to the Newberry Library, but it’s beautiful. A stone façade with rounded archways, opening up into a foyer, with staircases, as well as rooms on the first floor. So beautiful that many weddings are held there each year. Tucked away to right of the entrance is Ruggles Hall, where I attended a panel at the conference. The rich tones of the room created the perfect atmosphere for listening.

Now, I wasn’t able to attend the whole conference, but it was interesting to see exactly what scholars at the M.A. and PhD level are studying and researching.

“The Women, Men and the Ideal Marriage: Didactic Gender Messages in the Renaissance Arts” panel was one of the first sessions of the conference, drawing about 35 people to support these scholars and learn more about gender issues in The Canterbury Tales, The Duchess of Malfi, and cassone panels. For those not well versed in art history, cassone panels are painted images from a now defunct tradition of giving chests as a part of the dowry.

The four students treated the panel as any professional would— reading their papers and explaining concepts that might not be clear to the audience, trying to make us understand, as well as be able to give accurate feedback on their work. At the end, the student presenters fielded questions from the audience.

Brianna Tonner (MAE) spoke about the spectacle of pregnancy in The Duchess of Malfi. While I was unfamiliar with the text, she did a good job of making the audience understand the differences between the prose and play version of the narrative, as well as highlighted key scenes that illustrated her point. Although my research interests are mostly in Romantic and Victorian prose, I left the presentation wanting to read the text to discover the gender and class issues myself.

The other presenters also entertained the audience with unique perspectives on the works they were researching, and I was introduced to new thoughts on various Medieval stories and tales.

It has been a while since last I read The Canterbury Tales and I can honestly say I know nothing about art history or cassone panels, but it didn’t matter. I was able to follow along. The students presented clear, concise ideas about masculinity in “The Millers Tale,” ecocriticism in “The Franklin’s Tale” and the parable-like images of the Continence of Scipio.

Sitting in the audience, it wasn’t as scary as I thought, well for me anyways. The presenters may have been scared but they handled themselves well, especially when they realized that the audience was there because we wanted to learn.

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