Sarah Gwyneth Ross
PhD, Northwestern University, 2006
Fields of Interest
Early modern Europe; humanism; women and gender
Professor Ross’s research centers on the cultural and intellectual history of Renaissance Europe, particularly Italy and England – and, truth be told, especially Italy. What roles did women play in the revival of antiquity that spanned the fourteenth through the seventeenth centuries? In what ways did those who were not card-carrying literati (for instance physicians, merchants and artisans) interact with the “new learning” – and what did that interaction really do for them? How might unpublished sources such as wills, account books and household inventories illuminate everyday contact with books and education? These questions constitute the engines of Ross’s recent publications about Renaissance women writers, as well as the two books that she is now writing. The first of these new projects, Cultural Legitimacy in Renaissance Venice: Physicians, the Reading Public and the Power of Books, recovers the intellectual lives of merchant-class men and women in sixteenth-century Venice from mountains of archival material. The second project, a textbook currently entitled The World of Early Modern Europe: Society, Culture and Ideas, 1450-1789, recasts the traditional narrative to emphasize sociocultural and intellectual developments. Her secret mission in this book is to lure unsuspecting undergraduates into liking early modern European history by telling the story through the artifacts, experiences and voices of men and women who are a bit more relatable than kings, “conquerors” or cardinals. Ross’s research and writing have been generously supported by a number of institutions and foundations, including the Princeton University Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts, Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Jacob K. Javits Fellowship Program.
The commitments to tackling big topics from oblique angles, listening carefully to historical actors who were not their era’s headliners and juxtaposing different forms of evidence inspire Ross’s teaching no less than her research. She invites students to draw history from literature and art, and encourages them to risk interpretive off-roading in discussions and written work. At the undergraduate level, she teaches surveys of European history, as well as electives on the Renaissance, early-modern Rome, literary traditions connecting the Christian and Islamic worlds, women writers and the emergence of feminism as a critical category, the history of the family and the role of sexuality in shaping human identity. Her graduate teaching includes colloquia on the historiography of early modern Europe and the methods and sources of women’s and gender history.
- The Birth of Feminism: Woman as Intellect in Renaissance Italy and England. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.
- “Urbis Veronae Decora: Donne umaniste e onore civile nella tradizione biografica rinascimentale,” (trans. Stefania Montemezzo) in Paola Lanaro and Alison Smith, eds., Donne a Verona. Una storia della città dal medioevo ad oggi. Verona, Italy: Cierre Gruppo Editoriale, 2012.
- “Esther Inglis: Calligrapher, Linguist, Miniaturist and Christian Humanist,” in Julie Campbell and Anne Larsen, eds., Early Modern Women and Transnational Communities of Letters. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2010.
- “Sofonisba Anguissola,” “Lavinia Fontana,” “Moderata Fonte,” “Barbara Strozzi,” and “Costanza Varano” in Diana Robin et al., eds., Encyclopedia of Women in the Renaissance. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC Clio, Inc., 2007.