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CFP Deadline: 1 February 2023

Conference dates: afternoons, 27 & 28 June 2023


Organiser: Anca-Delia Moldovan (Warburg Institute)

Keynote speakers: Christine Göttler (Professor emerita, Art History, Universität Bern); Frances E. Dolan (Distinguished Professor, Department of English, University of California at Davis)

Human life is closely dependent on soil, both for its capacity to produce food and for its geo-political connotations. It is no wonder that soil fertility has been at the centre of human thought from the mythical Golden Age and the fruitful gardens of Homer’s Odyssey to the furrows of the Biblical plough, and to the long-lasting doctrine of the four elements. The need to improve the quality of the soil reached a pinnacle in the second half of the sixteenth century, resulting in a boom in printed publications on estate management. Contemporaneous interventions into the environment (both within the surrounding countryside and colonial landscapes) gave rise to a novel consciousness of the empirical ability of people to transform the land, and therefore nature itself.

This conference aims to showcase a multifaced and interconnected perspective on ideas and representations of soil in the Early Modern period, focusing on the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries.

The event invites applications for 20 min papers, from advanced graduate students, early career, and established scholars. It welcomes contributions that engage with the topics proposed below through a variety of methodologies and disciplines, such as history of art, history of science, ecohistory, cultural and intellectual history, politico-economic history, and literature.

Topics include (but are not limited to):

  • The relationship between the new Early Modern science of botany and soil experimentations: from innovations in the type and use of fertilizers to the need to change the alchemy of the soil to acclimatise plants from the New World. Papers are invited to consider how these novel observations determined critical changes in the attitude towards classical authority and established theoretical frameworks.
  • Politico-economic exploitations directed towards agricultural productivity and conducted in the name of public good (e.g., land reclamations, deforestations).
  • Myths of a primordial, lost, or restored soil fertility, and their role in supporting Early Modern political governments, environmental interventions, or intellectual ideologies in Europe and overseas.
  • Geology and soil theories between natural philosophy and religion (as in theories of the Earth and views of the post-diluvian Earth).
  • Colonial lands: the first encounters with the “rare fruitfulness” of the Americas; appropriations of indigenous peoples’ land and seventeenth-century socio-economic theories on governing and ownership.
  • Representations of fertile or sterile landscapes and their cultural implications. Working the soil or with soil in the visual and material culture.

Interested speakers should submit an abstract (max 300 words) and a brief CV to by 1 February 2023, 23:59 GMT.

A publication of the conference proceedings will be considered.

Image: Aetas Argentea in Ovid, Metamorphoses 1. Crispijn van de Passe I, Cologne, 1602–1607. Engraving. From The Warburg Institute’s Photographic Collection. [the original work is found in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. RP-P-OB-15.886]