In this latest episode of In Theory John Raimo, one of the founding editor of the JHI blog, interviews Christopher S. Celenza on his new book, The Italian Renaissance and the Origins of the Modern Humanities: An Intellectual History, 1400-1800 (Cambridge University Press, 2021) which returns us to the history of what we fundamentally do as scholars working with texts. Celenza explores the different careers of noted and not-so-well-remembered philologists, revisiting a key figure in his own scholarly output in the unforgettable Lorenzo Valla before tracing an arc through the better-known Angelo Poliziano, the lesser-known yet fascinating Angelo Decembrio and Petrus Crinitus (or Pietro di Riccio Baldi), the surprising figure of the philosopher René Descartes, generations of French scholars from Montfaucon and Hardouin to D’Alembert and Diderot before arriving at Thomas Jefferson. From the eighth century forgery of the Donation of Constantine to Thomas Jefferson’s Biblical studies, Celenza expands our history of philology to its echoes in the present. He also stretches its borders in the Italian Renaissance. Celenza folds in the subjects of emotion, identity, trust, authenticity, literary history, philosophy, skepticism, historiography, and encyclopedism into a disciplinary history. What emerges in Celenza’s telling proves both a rich history of personalities impressing themselves upon methods we still use as scholars and a new, broader genealogy for today’s humanities. Both a history and a defense of philology and its arts of reading, The Italian Renaissance and the Origins of the Modern Humanities: An Intellectual History, 1400-1800 compliments recent publications from such scholars as Rens BodPaul Reitter and Chad WellmonEmily J. LevineJames Turner, and Françoise Waquet to remind us of the potential and challenges ahead for all humanists.

John Raimo is a graduate student at New York University, and is also one of the founding editors of the JHI blog.

Edited by: Kristin Engelhardt

Featured Image: Raphael, “The School of Athens”, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.