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Standing at the Crossroads: Doubt in Early Modern Italy (1500-1560)

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - BIVIUM (Standing at the Crossroads: Doubt in Early Modern Italy (1500-1560))

Reporting period: 2018-09-03 to 2020-09-02

At the end of the fifteenth century and in the first decades of the sixteenth century, extraordinary events drastically altered the course of Italian and European history. The discovery of the ‘New World’, the outbreak of the ‘wars of Italy’, that of the so-called Reformation, the conflicts with the Ottoman empire, the Sack of Rome (1527), caused a sense of anxiety and bewilderment. What people had been holding true for centuries suddenly became outdated, unreliable, unsatisfying. What were the consequences of such tumultuous events on the mindset of Italian people? I argue that the exploration of how doubt was defined, represented, imagined, and experienced is a privileged way to assess changes in Italian mentality over the period comprised between the late 1400s and the 1560s. Doubt is a broader, more flexible category to understand this state of uncertainty than those of scepticism or unbelief traditionally adopted by scholarship. My project considers doubt, rather than an intellectual habit, a condition that affects the mind, the soul, and the body. Unfortunately, scholars have paid so far little attention to doubt and its social implications, focusing on more recognizable philosophical strains, such as skepticism (and, later, libertinism), on outstanding individuals and generally male-authored works, and on a later period. BIVIUM is set to show that already at the beginning of the sixteenth century, and in a much wider range of fields than is commonly accepted, doubt was a crucial issue. Second, these project deals with doubt as an issue cutting across all social strata, thus retrieving the voices of women and of the uneducated. Third, it adopts an interdisciplinary methodology that brings together literature, religious history, history of emotions, and cultural history. The study of early modern doubt is relevant to our society in many respects. The early sixteenth century experienced for the first time major issues of connectivity: a global world made European acquainted with previously unknown cultures and faiths. The Reformation brought in a religious divide whose traumatizing effects caused issues of religious tolerance and coexistence. The printing press began to spread news that in many cases were not reliable and could be manipulated. Wars caused economic stagnation and epidemics. Religious coexistence, issues of globalization, overflow of information: these issues call for comparison between the early sixteenth century and our own world. Understanding the intellectual and emotional response to doubt of sixteenth-century may allow us to better understand and handle our responses to an age of doubt. This project aims to produce a comprehensive cultural history of doubt unravelling the complexity of this notions, its uses, its goals, and its strategies within different cultural contexts, thus retrieving a fundamental category of European cultural identity which has been partially lost.
"During the outgoing phase I attended a series of conferences and lectures organized by the Department of Italian, University of Toronto (= UoT), in particular the series of “Emilio Goggio” Lectures, and by the Centre for Renaissance and Reformation Studies (= CRRS). In particular, I attended the annual Erasmus Lecture, the Early Modern Interdisciplinary Graduate Forum (= EMIGF), and the colloquia organized on a regular basis by the CRRS. These conferences have allowed me to familiarize with several methodological approaches to early modern studies, from social history to art history, from the history of emotions to the history of literature. I also attended lectures by outstanding scholars such as Brian Stock and Natalie Zemon Davis. The attendance to the “Making Stories in the Early Modern World” conference in November 2019 in particular has been fruitful in giving important insights into the methodology of microhistory and global history. I met on a regular basis with my supervisor in Toronto, prof. Nicholas Terpstra and with his graduate students receiving important feedback.

I attended workshops organized by the Centre for Teaching Innovation and Support of the UoT regarding issues of equity and power in the classroom and how to create a safe teaching environment, as well as the best way to draft a successful dossier for job applications. I also attended a workshop on the use of sources organizes by the Graduate Center for Academic Communication and a workshop on drafting and submitting a book proposal organized by the Department of History, UoT, led by acquisitions editors of Cornell University Press.

I have organized a series of three panels at the 2019 Renaissance Society of America Annual Meeting (= RSA) titled “Cultures of Doubt in Early modern Europe”. My panel on “Doubt, Science, and Empirical Knowledge in Early Modern Europe” for the 202 RSA had been accepted. The conference was cancelled due to COVID19 but the session has been rolled over to the 2021 Meeting to be held in Dublin. In addition, I submitted a new panel title ""Doubting Women. Women as Agents of Doubt in Early Modern Europe"".

My article ""Allegorie e personificazioni del dubbio nell'Italia della prima metà del Cinquecento"", will appear in an edited volume titled Le doute dans l'Europe moderne forthcoming with Brepols. I submitted a review essay titled “Early Modern Uncertainty: A cultural Revolution and a Historiographical Turn” to the peer-reviewed journal “Exemplaria. Medieval, Early Modern, Theory”. The final monograph has been drafted and I will submit the manuscript to the publisher by December 2020.

Dissemination and communication activities:

April 4, 2019: EMIGF, CRRS: “Standing at the Crossroads: Allegories of Doubt in Renaissance Italy (1500-1560)”.
My “Goggio Lecture” at the Department of Italian, UoT, originally scheduled for May 14, 2020 has been cancelled due to COVID19. It has been rescheduled for the Spring Semester, 2021.

I have created a website for the project.
A video presentation of my research has been uploaded onto the YouTube Channel of my supervisor: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BTTy7io29k

I have released an interview on my project on the newspaper ""Corriere Canadese"" (February 20, 2019)
The project has been advertised on the Department's webpage: https://www.unive.it/data/16033/

Science Gallery Venice (= SGV): I have written an introduction for the catalogue of the exhibition ""Illusion"" organized by the SGV network. Along with the catalogue I had organized a workshop, also in partnership with SGV, originally scheduled for March 13, 2020, cancelled due to COVID-19. A video-interview on the “Illusion” exhibition will be realized and released this coming Fall.
The cancelled event has been replaced with a collaboration between SGV, the ArsElectronica festival, and the director Matteo Lonardi who is working on a series of virtual reality movies on doubt and artistic creation. The event, titled “The Art of Doubt” will be moderated by Michel Reilhac, curator of the Virtual Reality section of the Venice Film Festival and broadcast on the YouTube channel of SGV and on the ArsElectronica website. A video interview will be realeased on this occasion."
"The project is increasingly intertwining with the current cultural debate: doubt is at the heart of the debate on ""fake news""; of ethichal debate concerning Artificial Intelligence (doubt and choice, moral uncertainty); of criticism of scientific turth by larger section of public opinion,"