Sarah Knight

  • Tuesday 12 December 2017
  • 6.00pm-7.00pm
  • George Davies Centre, Lecture Theatre 1

‘Be frequent in exercising your stile, & invention’: Learning and Performance at the Early Modern Universities

My title quotes from the mid-seventeenth-century manuscript ‘Rules for Students’, written by the Cambridge tutor James Duport, which offers practical advice on becoming a successful student. Taking as its point of departure such contemporary manuscript and print evidence, my lecture will focus on the literary culture of the early modern universities. The poetic, prose and dramatic writing of students and graduates in the period was formed by the academic curricula and institutional priorities under which they worked, and their literary representations vividly illuminate their thoughts about the education they received. At times they seem to touch only glancingly on what we know happened within the institutions they depict; at other moments, they can exaggerate or even invent aspects of educational experience. But while ideas about the university might get refracted through imaginative invention, stylistic flourishes, rhetorical artifice or the conventions of genre, this does not diminish the insights that such works can provide.

Over the last few decades, the systematic work of social, educational and intellectual historians has profoundly advanced our understanding of the contexts inhabited by early modern students, and these institutional reconstructions are very important for learning what early modern students did and read. However, to learn more about what individuals at those institutions considered culturally and socially important and to gain insight into what they may have thought or believed, we also need to read what they wrote, even if their literary works can seem elusive compared with statutes, registration lists, college account books and inventories.

During the early modern phase of the history of education, many of the academic disciplines we take for granted today – such as history, geography, science and medicine based on empirical observation rather than classical authority – were being shaped and debated. Whether earnestly or satirically, philosophically or personally, polemically or confidingly, the authors I will discuss considered carefully the educational contexts which had formed them as thinkers and writers. Educational experience inspired a rich variety of compositions in the early modern period, as the formal teaching of rhetoric profoundly shaped the composition of literature.

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Professor Sarah Knight

Sarah Knight is Professor of Renaissance Literature in the School of Arts. She started at Leicester in January 2005 as a lecturer in the English department, becoming senior lecturer in 2009. Previously, she studied for a BA in Classics and English at Oxford (1996), an MA in Renaissance History at the Warburg Institute in London (1997), and a PhD in Renaissance Studies at Yale (2002). She then worked from 2002 to 2004 as an AHRC-funded post-doctoral Research Fellow in the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance at Warwick. Her research and teaching interests lie within the classical tradition – especially Latin drama, poetry and rhetoric  – and in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English literature. 

Her first book was a translation and co-edition of the Italian humanist Leon Battista Alberti’s Latin prose satire Momus for the I Tatti Renaissance Library, Harvard University Press (2003). She has edited and translated the accounts of Elizabeth I’s visits to Oxford and several other texts for the new multi-authored critical edition of John Nichols’s The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth I, which was published in five volumes by Oxford University Press (2014), and awarded the 2015 MLA Prize for a Scholarly Edition and the 2015 Roland H Bainton Book Prize for Reference by the Sixteenth Century Society. She has published widely on early modern literature and institutions of learning (schools, universities and Inns of Court) and has co-edited three essay collections: The Oxford Handbook of Neo-Latin (Oxford University Press, 2015); The Cultural and Intellectual World of the Early Modern Inns of Court (Manchester University Press, 2011) and The Progresses, Pageants, and Entertainments of Queen Elizabeth I (Oxford University Press, 2007). 

She is currently editing and translating John Milton’s student speeches (the Prolusions) and editing Fulke Greville’s plays. She co-convenes the British Milton Seminar, which meets twice a year in Birmingham; she is a former President of the Society for Neo-Latin Studies; a member of the AHRC Peer Review College; and a Scientific Advisory Board Member at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Neo-Latin Studies in Innsbruck. In 2014, she was a British Academy Mid-Career Fellow. She teaches across the undergraduate curriculum, from the first-year modules ‘Reading English’ and ‘Renaissance Drama’, to the second-year ‘Renaissance Literature’ module, to final-year dissertations and three optional modules which focus variously on classical literature in translation; Greek, Roman and Renaissance tragedy; and Latin poetry in the original language.

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