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Letter from the Directors

Dear Potential NEH Seminar Participant,

Reform and renewal have been central concepts in the history of Europe as well as the wider world, and they continue to be powerful elements of our public discourse whether in the political, the religious, or the institutional spheres of life.  Indeed, “reform” and “renewal” almost seem passwords for legitimate and positive transformation.  With its repeated movements for religious and political reform and renewal, the Middle Ages offer a particularly rich historical landscape in which to investigate these processes.  Our NEH seminar therefore addresses questions fundamental to our understanding of society: what is the relationship between the sacred and the secular? What is the place of the past in the transformation of the present?  How do institutions gain and maintain authority in the midst of change? How are ideals and agendas communicated in an era of limited literacy? How do the material circumstances of life—space and place, clothing and imagery, etc.—support or undermine efforts at renewal?  What are the roles of individuals and social and institutional structures in bringing about transformation?

In addition to their own research projects, seminar participants will pursue these larger questions through a combination of theoretical readings, richly documented case studies, and site visits.  Initial seminar meetings will provide

  • a shared foundation in the range and interpretation of medieval movements of reform and renewal;
  • a variety of theoretical perspectives on social, institutional, and cultural transformation;
  • an orientation to the material and conceptual legacies of imperial Rome and the late antique papacy.

With this shared toolkit of questions and knowledge, we will explore three case studies ranging from the eighth and ninth centuries to the fourteenth.  First, we will consider Charlemagne's imperial crowning by Pope Leo III on Christmas day in the year 800 and the impact of his dynasty, the Carolingians, on the city.  We will then examine strategies employed by a revitalized papacy in the eleventh and twelfth centuries to bring about ecclesiastical reform as well as the bitter debates and battles of the Investiture Conflict that it engendered over the boundaries of sacred and secular and the legacies of Rome. Finally, we will explore the way in which the republican past of the city came to be mobilized by Arnold of Brescia, a leading figure in establishing the Roman "commune" in the mid-twelfth century, and Cola di Rienzo, who led a popular revolt in 1347, to secure new political powers or revitalize the urban environment.

Along with the seminar's curriculum, we intend the seminar to be energized and enriched by participants' own research agendas and materials, and ample time has been allocated at the end of the seminar for participants to present their work and receive peer feedback.  Rome is a tremendous base from which to pursue research because of its combination of the artistic and material remains, the incredible resources available at its libraries and institutes, and the array of scholars working in the city, and our location at the American Academy in Rome offers an ideal environment in which to read, think, write, and discuss.  We look forward to many excellent collaborations developing over the course of the five weeks.

Because of the multifaceted nature of reform and renewal, the seminar promises  to attract scholars from a wide range of disciplines and to catalyze truly interdisciplinary conversations. Our readings draw not only upon historical narrations, but also upon literary, liturgical, theological, and legal texts, privileging particularly those that refer to or were written for sites within the city of Rome. The seminar will also emphasize visual and material sources drawing upon the city's rich endowment of frescoes, mosaics, sculpture, inscriptions, and buildings, as well as textiles and other artifacts. Group site visits are designed to foster exploration of the relations between texts, images, spaces, and objects as well as to build community.

Throughout the seminar, we intend to facilitate through group meals and other events conversations and collaborations about research and about how we teach these themes of reform and renewal and share teaching materials and sources.  Our goal is for participants to return home not only advanced on their own research and publication projects but also equipped with new insights and resources for their classrooms.  We therefore  welcome participant projects with classroom applicability.

We are very excited about this opportunity to explore with you these complex processes of reform and renewal in a location as rich in resources and learning opportunities as Rome is and to collaborate with you in creating an intellectually enriching, productive, and fun experience in summer 2014.

Thank you for considering the NEH Seminar on Reform and Renewal in Medieval Rome, and please do not hesitate to contact us with questions.

Maureen Miller & Bill North