In 2018, Barbara Mello (current secretary) invited me participate in a roundtable entitled “Teaching Race in the Renaissance.” I mused, “Am I a historian of the Renaissance?” My research focuses on African-descended people in colonial Latin America and my current book project entitled, “The Capital of Free Women: Race, Legitimacy, and Economic Development in Colonial Veracruz,” challenges traditional narratives of racial hierarchies and gendered mobility of African-descended women in Mexico’s understudied period from 1580 to 1730. I consider myself a colonialist and an early modernist, so would the Renaissance Conference of Southern California be a right fit for someone like me?
Even in the first session, I realized that while I did not have the idiomatic fluency to engage with everything, the legibility of analytical practice helped to bridge the multivocality of the disciplines and fields represented across panels. The 63rd Annual Conference offered a welcoming site for the exchange of ideas through an abundance of rich scholarship. With three concurrent panels of 3-4 speakers for each session, I sometimes felt like I was missing great papers because I was at a panel…listening to great papers. Graduate students, early-careers scholars, and more established contributors presented on a wide array of themes from gender and racialization, to governance and memory. Not surprisingly, our dear friend Shakespeare was well accounted for. However, a number of lesser-studied writers and pieces also had room to shine.
What most impressed me throughout the conference was the clarity and innovation of methodological treatment. Presenters invited us to consider: What can see we see when the lens is diminution? How is the visceral archive of literature maintained or policed? What are the limits of understanding governance through desire? What does “otherness” reveal about the social, cultural, religious, and economic worlds of “the Renaissance”? These questions and many more spoke to me as a historian and helped me think through how I was writing about and teaching my own areas of interest. With such a collegial environment, it is no wonder that the RCSC has sustained a legacy over six decades.
At the plenary roundtable on pedagogy, I was joined by Ambereen Dadbhoy from Harvey Mudd College and Liesder Mayea from the University of Redlands. All of us spoke about our aim to make syllabi more inclusive and to disrupt notions of “the canon” and “standard narratives.” We also emphasized the need for more practical exercises. I suggested examining laws propagated during the Renaissance. While not all facets of quotidian life were captured in legal culture, plenty of it was – often times in highly racialized, gendered, and hierarchal tones. Students sometimes believe that laws were quite stable in monarchies and their eventual realization of the incoherence, contradiction, and anxiety found in legal culture helps them better understand the fraught construction of social categories like race. During the audience discussion section, others offered their best practices and we continued to brainstorm. Over the years, I have come to fully appreciate that a professional conference is also a temporary home to grow pedagogically, and I thank the Renaissance Conference of Southern California for continuing to support our development as teachers as well as scholars.
After a day of dynamic formal presentations and enriching informal chats, the Renaissance Conference of Southern California closed with a call for continued experimentation, innovation, and provocation. What I witnessed during the conference was an openness to new themes and topics but also new theories and methods. I look forward to future conferences as more scholars continue to expand, complicate, and reconfigure the hallowed parameters of “The Renaissance.”