Mapping Modernity

Scholars from the fields of law, philosophy, history, architecture, Italian, English, and Comparative Literature will gather at Yale University on April 12 and 13 for an interdisciplinary conference, “Vico and the Map of Modernity,” sponsored by the Whitney Humanities Center and the Yale Law School. Donald Verene, director of the Institute for Vico Studies at Emory University; Angus Fletcher, professor of English at New York University; Nancy Struever, professor of history at The Johns Hopkins University; Andrea Battistini, professor of Italian at the University of Bologna; and Mirjan Damaska, professor of Law at Yale, are among the 15 scholars who will reappraise the work and influence of the eighteenth-century Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico 1668-1744, author of “The New Science.”

According to Giuseppe Mazzotta, professor of Italian and organizer of the conference, “Vico’s ‘new knowledge’ is a way of seeing the world which entails a radical vision of knowledge as an integrated totality. Scholars from a variety of disciplines have become increasingly interested in Vico’s ideas about the links between law and politics; his theories about culture and about how language, ritual, and civil institutions shape history; his critique of technology; and his vision of the university.”

Vico, forerunner of the historical view known as “historicism,” saw each epoch as a whole in which all aspects of culture–art, religion, philosophy, politics, and economics–are interrelated. He emphasized the usefulness of mythology, poetry, and art as means to understanding the spirit of a culture. To Vico, history can provide more certain knowledge about humanity than the natural sciences, and the study of history becomes the key to any understanding of humanity. Neglected in his own time, Vico was rediscovered by nineteenth century Romantic proponents of a historical outlook, such as Thomas Carlyle, and is today regarded as one of the great historical theorists.

The first session of the conference will begin on Friday, April 12, at 2:30 p.m. with lectures by Professors Verene, Struever, and Damaska. A session on Saturday, April 13, from 10:00 a.m. to noon will feature lectures by Professors Battistini and Fletcher. On Saturday at 1:30 p.m., there will be a panel discussion called “Vico and Modernity” with Professors Cecilia Miller, Massimo Lollini, James Goetsch, Charlotte Thomas, and Tyrus Miller. At 3:30, “The Flower of Wisdom” will feature Professors Christian Moevs, Diana Bitz, Alexander Bertland, and Stefano Velotti.

In conjunction with the conference, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library will put on display seventeenth- and eighteenth- century holdings relevant to Vico’s intellectual apprenticeship. The Beinecke will sponsor a reception on Friday at 5:30 p.m.

All lectures will take place at the Whitney Humanities Center, 53 Wall Street. They are free and open to the public. For more information, call 432-0670.

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Gila Reinstein:, 203-432-1325