December 29, 2009
The History Department recently celebrated the launching of
books by three of its faculty members, Environmental Studies Director Gordon
Miller, and Associate Professors Hazel Hahn and Theresa Earenfight.
The Metamorphosis of Plants, originally published
in 1790, was Goethe's first major attempt to describe what he called in a letter
to a friend "the truth about the how of the organism." Inspired by the diversity
of flora he found on a journey to Italy, Goethe sought a unity of form in
diverse structures. He came to see in the leaf the germ of a plant's
metamorphosis—"the true Proteus who can hide or reveal himself in all vegetal
forms"—from the root and stem leaves to the calyx and corolla, to pistil and
stamens. With this short book—123 numbered paragraphs, in the manner of the
great botanist Linnaeus—Goethe aimed to tell the story of botanical forms in
process, to present, in effect, a motion picture of the metamorphosis of
This MIT Press edition of The Metamorphosis of Plants illustrates
Goethe's text (in an English translation by Douglas Miller) with a series of
stunning and starkly beautiful color photographs as well as numerous line
drawings. It is the most completely and colorfully illustrated edition of
Goethe's book ever published. It demonstrates vividly Goethe's ideas of
transformation and interdependence, as well as the systematic use of imagination
in scientific research—which influenced thinkers ranging from Darwin to Thoreau
and has much to teach us today about our relationship with nature.
Queen María of Castile, wife of Alfonso V, "the Magnanimous,"
king of the Crown of Aragon, governed Catalunya in the mid-fifteenth century
while her husband conquered and governed the kingdom of Naples. For twenty-six
years, she maintained a royal court and council separate from and roughly
equivalent to those of Alfonso in Naples. Such legitimately sanctioned political
authority is remarkable given that she ruled not as queen in her own right but
rather as Lieutenant-General of Catalunya with powers equivalent to the king's.
María does not fit conventional images of a queen as wife and mother; indeed,
she had no children and so never served as queen-regent for any royal heirs in
their minorities or exercised a queen-mother's privilege to act as diplomat when
arranging the marriages of her children and grandchildren. But she was clearly
more than just a wife offering advice: she embodied the king's personal
authority and was second only to the king himself. She was his alter ego, the
other royal body fully empowered to govern. For a medieval queen, this official
form of corulership, combining exalted royal status with official political
appointment, was rare and striking.
The King's Other Body is both a
biography of María and an analysis of her political partnership with Alfonso.
María's long, busy tenure as lieutenant prompts a reconsideration of long-held
notions of power, statecraft, personalities, and institutions. It is also a
study of the institution of monarchy and a theoretical reconsideration of the
operations of gender within it. If the practice of monarchy is conventionally
understood as strictly a man's job, María's reign presents a compelling argument
for a more complex model, one attentive to the dynamic relationship of queenship
and kingship and the circumstances and theories that shaped the institution she
Integrating the history of Paris with the history of
consumption, the press, publicity, advertising and spectacle, this book traces
the evolution of the urban core districts of consumption and explores elements
of consumer culture such as the print media, publishing, retail techniques,
tourism, city marketing, fashion, illustrated posters and Montmartre culture in
the nineteenth century. Hahn emphasizes the tension between art and industry and
between culture and commerce, a dynamic that significantly marked urban
commercial modernity that spread new imaginary about consumption. She argues
that Parisian consumer culture arose earlier than generally thought, and
explores the intense commercialization Paris underwent.
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