Past Workshops

Power and Machines in the Early Modern Period

Coordinators: Henry S. Turner (English), Michael Shank (History of Science, Technology, and Medicine), Gail Geiger (Art History), Robin Rider (History of Science, Special Collections), Susanne Wofford (English), Jason Cohen (English), Cody Reis (English), and Jonathan Seitz (History of Science).

This workshop will examine the interface between various manifestations of power and the constellation of notions surrounding the machine, broadly understood, both actual and metaphorical. Manifestations of power we will consider range from virtù and the vituoso to technological, political, military, colonial, and divine power. The term "machine" includes a range of connotations, from the straightforward meaning of mechanical contrivance to mechanization of various types of production (cloth, paper, books, theatrical display, mining), through the world as machine (the clockwork metaphor), the body as machine, the mechanical philosophy, and engines of war (imaginary as well actual). The density of references to "machines" as an embodiment of necessity in early modern writing increases ca. 1450-1700, and the appreciation of the machine grows, not only as an engine of power in the literal sense, but also as an analogy, as a powerful metaphor, and as an accoutrement of political power, whether constructed for theatrical or military purposes. The purpose of the workshop is to explore leading ramifications of this growing attention to things mechanical and instrumental and to understand a few of the key inroads of the machine into early modern thought, politics, and society by examining its art, literature, and philosophy.