In 1605, more than 300 years before geologists proposed a scientific theory of continental drift, the philologist Richard Verstegan hypothesized that land masses had long been in motion. How did a Renaissance historian of language and culture develop a hypothesis about the history of the earth that contradicted both his knowledge and experience of its fixity? This talk will explore the interlinked ideas of linguistic and continental drift that arose from one author’s fascination with relics, fossils, etymology, and the global legacy of linguistic confusion in the aftermath of the Tower of Babel. It will consider the ways in which Renaissance ideas about the history of language, as well as stories and myths about that history, made possible a re-conceptualization of the deep history of the earth’s surfaces.
Marjorie Rubright is associate professor of English at the University of Toronto and the 2015-2016 Norman Freehling Visiting Professor at the Institute for the Humanities, University of Michigan. A scholar of Renaissance literature and culture, her work focuses on the period’s epistemologies of race, gender, and ethnicity, engaging with a wide range of early modern materials, including drama, pageantry, dictionaries, atlases, engravings, and architecture. Her first book Doppelgänger Dilemmas: Anglo-Dutch Relations in Early Modern English Literature and Culture (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014) reveals the significance of the literary and historical forces of similitude and proximity in an era that was so often preoccupied with ethnic and cultural difference. At Toronto, she has served as dramaturge for a production of the Renaissance ‘pirate’ drama, A Christian Turn’d Turke, co-organized an international interdisciplinary conference on Early Modern Migrations, and is currently co-curating the special exhibition, ‘So Long Lives This:’ Celebrating Shakespeare 1616-2016, opening this February at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. Her current project, A World of Words: Language, Globalization, and the English Renaissance, considers how stories about the history of language shaped the period’s conceptions of globalization.