Early Modern Techne:
A Cross-Cultural Conversation

project website

Early Modern Techne, a collaboration across disciplines and geographies, is a project devoted to experimenting with new frameworks for cross-cultural conversation in the study of early modernity. Bringing together scholars of Europe, the Americas, the Middle East and South Asia, as well as China, all studying the period between 1500 and 1800, we aim to approach the idea of “early modernity” not as a historiographical category defined primarily by economics (Weber) or epistemology (Foucault), but rather by focusing on techne—that is, aspects of making specific objects and ideas. By tracing the often surprisingly parallel transformations in technologies, ideas, images, and rhetorics across cultures, we aim to uncover new ways of theorizing the “early modern” within and across specific geographical and cultural contexts.

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To do so, we attend to the circulation of objects, people, and ways of thinking, from mercenaries and ambassadors to poets and artisans, from pineapples, porcelain vases, and illuminated manuscripts, to conceptions of desire, skill, selfhood and power. Moving away from large-scale attempts to theorize over-arching shifts from the “medieval” to the “modern,” we seek to explore an alternate approach: to construct an archive of intersecting material histories across the early modern world, grounded in particular, multifaceted cultural analyses. By focusing on the specific emergence, the coming- into-being of objects and ideas, we hope to move beyond an abstracted historical/ philosophical view of the early modern, into one that is spatial, embodied and material. Co-organized with Kishwar Rizvi (History of Art, Yale) and Tina Lu (East Asian Studies, Yale), the Early Modern Techne project is a series of three workshops that will take place in Spring 2017 and bring together scholars from different disciplines and geographies to consider topics of common conceptual interest: the body, skill and technology.