Patricia Clare Ingham (Dept of English, University of Indiana)
The Rossell Hope Robbins Memorial Lecture: “New Worlds—Tracking an Enchanted History”
March 27, 2015
English Studies Conference Room of the Graduate Center, CUNY (room 4406)
The year 1492 stands first among the markers of historical rupture, as the harbinger of a New Humanist Age, one enthusiastic about novelty (Grafton). According to this view, data mined from a “New World” revolutionized a bookish commitment to old geographies, and a medieval culture enamored with the power of tradition. This talk, drawn from the culminating chapter of my forthcoming book, The Medieval New: Ambivalence in an Age of Innovation, argues instead that the apparent opposition between “tradition” and “novelty” needs to be rethought, and that the case of Columbus can sharpen this rethinking. Early editions of the Letters of Columbus (such as those held at IU’s Lilly Library) demonstrate what it means that Columbus’s “New World” claims depended on a diverse set of recursions and repetitions, some imaginative, some editorial, some technical, and some desirous. I conclude by assessing the implications of this rethinking for the state of the question of “innovation” in the contemporary University.