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With eclectic research interests ranging from 16th- and 17th-century English and European literature to the history of the book and the history of science, medicine and mathematics, Carla Mazzio came to UB in 2008, drawn, she says, by “brilliant faculty” and a “deeply collegial environment” where interdisciplinary conversations thrive. Her work enhances the strategic strength Cultures and Texts identified in the UB 2020 long-range strategic plan.
Her interest in science and the humanities was sparked at the outset of her career, when she co-edited and contributed to the prize-winning and enormously influential “The Body in Parts.” The study of the significance of body parts in the literature, medicine, theology and art history of early modern Europe was published while she was a graduate student at Harvard University. While teaching at the University of Chicago before joining the UB faculty, Mazzio was honored by the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies as one of the most brilliant Renaissance scholars in the world under the age of 40.
Mazzio’s interdisciplinary expertise makes her a fresh and important voice. In 2009, she edited and contributed to Shakespeare & Science, a special double issue of Johns Hopkins University’s South Central Review that explores links between Shakespearean drama and anatomy, cartography, botany, physics, cosmology, meteorology, experimental science and early variants of life science.
Her 2009 monograph, “The Inarticulate Renaissance: Language Trouble in an Age of Eloquence,” for example, offers a compelling counter-history to the Renaissance as an age of eloquence. It examines what it might have meant, in the “age of eloquence,” to speak indistinctly; mumble to oneself or to God; or speak unintelligibly to a lover, a teacher or a court of law. A nominee for the Phyllis Goodhart Gordan Book Prize for the year’s best book in Renaissance studies, the work argues for the centrality of the inarticulate in shaping Renaissance literature and culture.
As a Francis Bacon Foundation Fellow at the Huntington Library in spring 2010, Mazzio worked on a book examining how irrational dimensions of mathematical theory and practice informed literary and aesthetic innovation in the Renaissance. She argues that while math often is associated with order, reason or the rise of rationalism, it was, in its early days, also a source of disorder and frustration as people struggled with the unfamiliar discipline.
Mazzio has pointed out that stories, dialogues and narratives accompanying equations in early Renaissance math books sometimes highlighted the tragic or comic consequences of an individual’s inability to do math well. Conversely, Renaissance dramas often drew upon tensions integral to the emergent culture of mathematics in ways that scholars have not yet fully realized.
“If we, as humanities scholars in particular, understand the extent to which early math was as much about passion as reason, about disorientation as orientation, about disorder as order, we can begin to see relationships between math and various art forms, and early drama in particular, in new ways,” she says.
This fall Mazzio assumes responsibilities as director of graduate studies in the UB Department of English, co-director of a new Science Studies, Humanities and the Arts Research Workshop and co-director of UB’s Early Modern Research Workshop.
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