The EMSIS Seminar, Edinburgh, 2006

November brought a Saturday trip up to Scotland to attend EMSIS, the Early Modern Studies in Scotland seminar.

This convenes up to twice a year at different host institutions. It proved to be a big learning curve.

The three speakers included my primary and secondary supervisors, James Loxley and Dermot Cavanagh, alongside Professor Willy Maley from Glasgow.

Professor Maley’s talk on Milton’s 1670 History of Britain and how Milton saw the nation prompted me to abandon reticience and ask about republicanism.

Dinnae Be Feart - Grab Life by the Nuts (High Life, BBC)

What fascinates me is how ideology over the course of the mid-seventeenth century meanders with cause and effect.

On the one hand, there’s Milton’s 1648 sonnet to Fairfax, which argues that unless decisive action is taken, war will continue indefinitely. On the other, Marvell’s Horatian Ode of 1650 warns the perpetrators of revolution that thanks to their decision action, war will continue.

I asked if there was scope for a deeper Machiavellian reading of the History of Britain and Milton’s later texts.

Maley suggested that there may well be, and explained that while England imported European wines and consumer goods, one noticeable absentee at this time was European books.

There were many lessons to be learnt from the experiences and the thinkers of continental Europe, he said, to whom only a few had the sources and the learning to make it viable.

Evidently, this year is not just about the writing of a dissertation, but participating in a broader picture. Equally, it’s great to be networking, given the already identifiable pangs of isolation this year’s programme is set to bring.


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