Warren Boutcher (Queen Mary University of London), 'What is literary history now? Recovering the premodern textual world in the 21st century'

1590 title page with andean endorsers martin de murua historia del origen 2008 15901596 f 5v behind creative commons licence sean galvin private collection courtesy of textdiveglobal contributor lisl schoepflin

We find ourselves in a moment when, on the one hand, the resources available to recover the premodern textual world are diminishing, and, on the other hand, the possibilities for such recovery have never been more exciting and widely shared. Specialists in History, Modern Languages, Literature, and scholars trained in various national historiographies such as English and Italian studies, have for decades been converging on the historical study of texts in transregional or global frameworks. In so doing they have been challenging the traditional, nation-state-based disciplines and fields that shaped the study of texts from the nineteenth century. So, what is literary history now? This talk will offer one answer by presenting some preliminary materials and arguments from a project supported by two great institutions still willing to put significant resources into Humanities research for its own sake: the European Research Council and Oxford University, in this case though its department, Oxford University Press. The project (‘TextDiveGlobal’) is based at Queen Mary University of London and runs until 2026. It will produce for OUP a literary history of Europe in the world between the two sieges of Vienna (1529, 1683), by coordinating the research of about 90 collaborators from many different fields, working on texts and extra-textual artefacts of many different kinds. What are the potential gains and losses of a project on this kind of scale, located in the wide domain between literature and history, and beyond the dominion of any single western European national or bi-national (e.g. Anglo-Italian, Iberian) field of global studies?


Warren Boutcher is Professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary University of London. He has published extensively on Montaigne and on humanism, translation, and the history of the book and of libraries in early modern England, France, and Italy. Recent publications include The School of Montaigne in Early Modern Europe, 2 vols. (2017), which offers an interdisciplinary analysis of Montaigne's Essais and their fortunes in early modern Europe and the modern western university