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Renaissance Society of America Finds New Home at Fordham

The roots of the Society of Jesus, founded in 1540, were formed in the heart of the period known as the Renaissance. It seemed only fitting then, that Fordham’s Rose Hill campus should serve as the new home of the Renaissance Society of America (RSA), according to Carla Zecher, the executive director of the society.

“There’s kind of a logic to this because, while we’re not affiliated with the Catholic Church, the Jesuit order was founded in the Renaissance,” Zecher said. “There’s this connection.”

The academic society officially moved to Fordham from the City University of New York Graduate Center in July, with offices for its staff in Faber Hall and a new headquarters for its academic journal, Renaissance Quarterly, in Walsh Library.

“We could just go off and get offices on our own but we want to be involved with academic life,” Zecher said. “We produce a journal and we run a conference and we can do that I suppose anywhere, but it makes sense to be collaborating with a university.”

The society was founded in 1954 and currently has about 5,000 members worldwide, including professors, museum curators, graduate students, and librarians.

“It’s Renaissance studies in a very large sense, so the time period our society focuses on is 1300 to 1700—all academic fields for that 400-year period. So we have art historians and literary scholars and even philosophy and history of science,” she said.

When the society agreed to move to Fordham, the University established a fellowship at Renaissance Quarterly for a graduate student to get hands-on experience with academic publishing. Subscriptions to the journal, which are available to members of the RSA and institutions, such as universities and museums, total over 10,000 in 2019.

Michael Sanders, a Ph.D. student in history with a medieval concentration, received the fellowship and serves as the book reviews manager for the journal.

“As a graduate student,” Sanders said, “you always see the finished product of journals—using them in our research—but this job is nice because you get to see what goes on behind [the scenes].”

The role also gives Sanders a chance to learn beyond his Ph.D. work.

“As graduate students, you write a dissertation—you’re focused on one subject and specialized, but with this journal, you get to kind of scope the whole field, from art history to philosophy, theology, history,” he said. “It helps you connect your own work to broader trends.”

The Renaissance Quarterly staff also includes David Myers, Ph.D., Fordham professor of history, who serves as its book reviews editor and played a role in helping bring the society to Fordham. A work-study position for a second graduate student was recently added as well.

“Having the Fordham people working on the journal really makes it feel more tied to the University, really makes them a part of it,” said managing editor Colin Macdonald, Ph.D. “You can tell [Fordham’s] a place where the humanities are not an afterthought. They’re really important and really vital and I think we feed off that.”

As the society gets settled in its new location, Zecher said there will be plenty of opportunities for partnerships between RSA and Fordham.

“We don’t want to just barge in and say, ‘here’s what Fordham should be doing in Renaissance studies,’” she said. “We want to figure out ways that we can collaborate.”

Zecher said she’s beginning to hold informal meetings with faculty to learn more about their work and the role the society can play in it.

Unrelated to the move, Heather Dubrow, the John D. Boyd, S.J. Chair in Poetic Imagination at Fordham, will be recognized by the society at its conference in Philadelphia in 2020. Dubrow will have two panels in her honor; one will focus on new directions in lyric studies and the second will be a roundtable discussion on the impact of her work in the field.

Having the RSA at Fordham benefits everyone, Dubrow said.

“Through its conferences and journal, RSA has taught me a great deal throughout my career,” she said, adding that Fordham graduate students will learn a lot from the work they’ll be doing with the society.

Zecher said she’s beginning to plan for next year’s fall board of directors meeting, which would include a symposium that students and faculty could attend at Fordham.

Both Zecher and Sanders said they hope the society’s presence on campus can enhance the University’s Renaissance-related studies and capture student interest.

“The topics that we work with are amazingly relevant and I think students might be surprised at that because they think, ‘oh the Renaissance,’” Zecher said. “I think that if students just take a look they’ll see there are some really exciting things going on.”


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