Rescuing Sacred Music of the Renaissance

Renaissance music is being studied in new ways at the Medici Archive Project in Florence, Italy.

A news magazine piece on “Rescuing Sacred Music of the Renaissance” from CBS Sunday Morning features Music and the Medici, a research program of the Medici Archive Project that focuses on recovering and restoring Renaissance music.

The CBS Sunday Morning feature is available for streaming on the CBS News website: [https://www.cbsnews.com/video/rescuing-sacred-music-of-the-renaissance/].

The video includes interviews with Mark Spyropoulos (Director of Music and the Medici) and Alessio Assonitis, (Director of the Medici Archive Project).

Renaissance Music from the Music and the Medici Research Program at the Medici Archive Project

The CBS Sunday Morning feature focuses on one facet of the Medici Archive Project’s research, but information on its other research programs and digital humanities projects is available on the Medici Archive Project website.

A manuscript volume from the Mediceo del Principato collection in the Archivio di Stato, Firenze

I have long worked with the Medici Archive Project and am pleased to see this news magazine feature on their ongoing historical research.

I previously served as a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow with the Medici Archive Project (2003-2006) and continue to collaborate with their research team through workshops, conferences, digital humanities projects, and publications. I contributed to the development of the Medici Archive Project Database and the BIA Platform, launched online in 2012. Alessio Assonitis and I co-edited a collective volume, The Grand Ducal Medici and their Archive (1537-1743) (Turnhout: Brepols, 2016). I taught a session at the Medici Archive Project Summer Seminar in Paleography and Archival Studies in summer 2019. More recently, I beta tested the new Medici Interactive Archive (MIA) Platform, launched in Summer 2020 (online at http://www.medici.org). I am currently preparing a paper for an upcoming conference organized by the Medici Archive Project on The Medici and the Perception of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Posted in Archival Research, Art History, Court Studies, Cultural History, Current Research, Digital Humanities, Early Modern Europe, Early Modern World, European History, History in the Media, History of the Book, Italian History, Manuscript Studies, Material Culture, Mediterranean World, Museums and Historical Memory, Music History, Reformation History, Renaissance Art and History, World History | Leave a comment

Faculty Feel Impact of Covid Pandemic

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has issued the findings of its annual Faculty Compensation Survey and the picture is not pretty.

“The survey found that real wages for full-time faculty decreased for the first time since the Great Recession, and average wage growth for all ranks of full-time faculty was the lowest since the AAUP began tracking annual wage growth in 1972. After adjusting for inflation, real wages decreased at over two-thirds of colleges and universities. The number of full-time faculty decreased at over half of institutions,” according to the AAUP.

The decrease in real wages for full-time faculty members is particularly alarming, since it suggests the direct impact of the defunding of higher education in the United States (especially at state universities).

There are fewer and fewer professors at universities and colleges, as more part-time instructors are being employed in adjunct and temporary positions. The full-time professors who are still employed at universities and colleges are earning less.

The AAUP provides details on its survey methodology: “Data collection for the AAUP’s 2020–21 Faculty Compensation Survey concluded in March, with 929 US colleges and universities providing employment data for nearly 380,000 full-time faculty members as well as senior administrators at nearly 600 institutions. In addition to full-time faculty employment data, institutions reported data for over 100,000 part-time faculty members who were employed in the prior academic year (2019–20). Data on part-time faculty were collected for the prior academic year, 2019–20, to ensure that institutions could provide complete data records.”

This year’s Faculty Compensation Survey tracked the usual salary data, but also has some additional features from previous years: “To understand the ways in which institutions responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, the AAUP also asked participating institutions to identify how many faculty members–both tenure-line and non-tenure-track–were impacted by actions taken by institutions. US colleges and universities have taken a wide range of actions in response to financial difficulties stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when many institutions were already struggling to balance their budgets, many lowered their expenditures by implementing hiring freezes, salary cuts, fringe benefit cuts, furloughs, and layoffs. The results of the AAUP’s 2020–21 Faculty Compensation Survey highlight the prevalence of such actions and how they have affected faculty members.”

For the full Faculty Compensation Survey, see the AAUP website.

For broader context on faculty members’ status within higher education institutions, see Benjamin Ginsberg, The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). The book description is available at the Oxford University Press website.

Benjamin Ginsberg offered a book talk in 2014 on the GBH Forum Network, available on YouTube. The online publication Inside Higher Ed interviewed Benjamin Ginsberg about the book in 2011.

Posted in Academic Freedom, Education Policy, Humanities Education | Leave a comment

“Lost Golden City” Discovered in Egypt

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of an important ancient Egyptian city near the modern city of Luxor.

The archaeological excavations began in September 2020 and seem to be revealing the “lost golden city” of Akhenaten.

National Geographic reports: “Three thousand four hundred years ago, a contentious ancient Egyptian king abandoned his name, his religion, and his capital in Thebes (modern Luxor). Archaeologists know what happened next: The pharaoh Akhenaten built the short-lived city of Akhetaten, where he ruled alongside his wife, Nefertiti and worshipped the sun. After his death, his young son Tutankhamun became ruler of Egypt—and turned his back on his father’s controversial legacy. But why did Akhenaten abandon Thebes, which had been the capital of ancient Egypt for more than 150 years? Answers may lie in the discovery of an industrial royal metropolis within Thebes that Akhenaten inherited from his father, Amenhotep III.”

Excavated remains of walls and buildings at archaeological site near Luxor.
Photo: Zahi Hawass Center for Egyptology

According to The New York Times, “Archaeologists said on Thursday [8 April 2021] that they had uncovered a large ancient pharaonic city that had lain unseen for centuries near some of Egypt’s best-known monuments. The city was built more than 3,400 years ago during the opulent reign of Amenhotep III, one of Egypt’s most powerful pharaohs, according to the Egyptian archaeologist overseeing the excavations, Zahi Hawass.”

Betsy Bryan, Professor of Egyptian Art and Archaeology (Johns Hopkins University) has called the find the “second most important archaeological discovery since the tomb of Tutankhamun.”

“The site dates from the era of 18th-dynasty pharaoh Amenhotep III, who ruled between around 1386 and 1353 B.C. and presided over an era of extraordinary wealth, power and luxury. In Amenhotep III’s final years, he is thought to have briefly reigned alongside his son, Akhenaten. But a few years after his father’s death, Akhenaten, who ruled from around 1353–1336, broke with everything the late ruler stood for. During his 17-year reign, he upended Egyptian culture, abandoning all of the traditional Egyptian pantheon but one, the sun god Aten. He even changed his name from Amenhotep IV to Akhenaten, which means ‘devoted to Aten.’ The heretic pharaoh didn’t stop there. Akhenaten moved his royal seat from Thebes north to a completely new city he called Akhetaten,” according to National Geographic.

BBC News, The New York Times, DW, and National Geographic report on the excavations. Professor Betsy Bryan’s profile is available at the Department of Near Eastern Studies webpage at Johns Hopkins University.

Posted in Ancient History, Empires and Imperialism, History in the Media, History of the Western World, Material Culture, Museums and Historical Memory, Urban History, World History | Leave a comment

Society for Military History Conference

The Society for Military History is organizing its upcoming annual meeting.

The Society for Military History (SMH) is a major academic organization that promotes research on war, culture, and society in all geographic regions and historical periods. The SMH publishes the Journal of Military History and hosts an annual academic conference each spring.

The registration is now open for the Society of Military History Conference, which will be held in Norfolk, VA, and online on 20-23 May 2021. Due to the ongoing Covid pandemic, this meeting of SMH will be also be broadcast virtually.

Here is the SMH announcement on the virtual sessions:

“Virtual Conference Attendance—Registration is OPEN!!!

It has never been easier to attend a SMH meeting. If you cannot travel to Norfolk, please check out the Virtual Conference Registration tab. We plan to broadcast all 85 panels across all 3 days. It’s the next best thing to being there. Log in instructions to follow by individual email to each virtual registrant. Sign up NOW!”

The SMH conference website has additional information: https://www.smh-hq.org/smh2021/index.html

Northern Illinois University students who have taken HIST 384 History of War since 1500, HIST 414 European Wars of Religion, HIST 423 French Revolution and Napoleon, HIST 760 Religious Violence in Comparative Perspective, HIST 790 Religious Politics and Sectarian Violence, or other courses on war and society may be interested in the themes of this conference.

Any NIU undergraduate or graduate students who are interested in attending the conference in person or virtually should contact me by e-mail about registering. Prospective graduate students who are considering studying History at Northern Illinois University are also invited to contact me. My faculty page at the Department of History website is: https://www.niu.edu/clas/history/about/faculty/sandberg.shtml

Posted in Comparative Revolutions, Conferences, History of Violence, Revolts and Revolutions, War and Society, War, Culture, and Society | Leave a comment

Irish in Illinois

I would like to celebrate the publication of The Irish in Illinois a new book by my friends and colleagues, Sean Farrell and Mathieu W. Billings.

Sean Farrell works on sectarian violence in Irish history and teaches with me as a Professor of History at Northern Illinois University. Mat Billings earned a Ph.D. in History at Northern Illinois and now teaches at the University of Indianapolis. Their newly released co-authored book examines the history of Irish Americans in Illinois.

Here is a short description of the book:

Today over a million people in Illinois claim Irish ancestry and celebrate their love for Ireland. In this concise narrative history, authors Mathieu W. Billings and Sean Farrell bring together both familiar and unheralded stories of the Irish in Illinois, highlighting the critical roles these immigrants and their descendants played in the settlement and the making of the Prairie State. Short biographies and twenty-eight photographs vividly illustrate the significance and diversity of Irish contributions to Illinois.

Billings and Farrell remind us of the countless ways Irish men and women have shaped the history and culture of the state. They fought in the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, the Civil War, and two world wars; built the state’s infrastructure and worked in its factories; taught Illinois children and served the poor. Irish political leaders helped to draw up the state’s first constitution, served in city, county, and state offices, and created a machine that dominated twentieth-century politics in Chicago and the state.

This lively history adds to our understanding of the history of the Irish in the state over the past two hundred fifty years. Illinoisans and Midwesterners celebrating their connections to Ireland will treasure this rich and important account of the state’s history.

The full book description is available on the Southern Illinois University Press website.

Congratulations to Sean and Mat on the new publication!

Posted in Cultural History, European History, Illinois History and Society, Northern Illinois University, Social History, United States History and Society | Leave a comment

Depicting an Early Modern Emperor

Early modern empires continue to have echoes in the contemporary world. A recent New York Times online feature focuses on Shah Jahan, a seventeenth-century Mughal Emperor who is known today for commissioning the Taj Mahal.

The interactive webpage examines a miniature portrait of Shah Jahan, offering an analysis of its complex composition and multicultural visual references. The feature utilizes Digital Humanities and art history techniques—zooming in and out of the miniature portrait to show its details and many external references

Chitarman, Miniature portrait of Shah Jahan (c. 1627), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City (The New York Times).

Researchers and students of the the Mughal Empire, Indian history, Renaissance studies, art history, early modern empires, court studies, Islamic history, and premodern World history may be interested in this web feature.

The New York Times published this interactive feature on its website.

Posted in Art History, Court Studies, Cultural History, Early Modern Europe, Early Modern World, Empires and Imperialism, History in the Media, Manuscript Studies, Museums and Historical Memory, Noble Culture and History of Elites, Renaissance Art and History, Warfare in the Early Modern World, World History | Leave a comment

Renaissance Teaching Award for High School Teachers

The Renaissance Society of America is offering a new award for innovative teaching of Renaissance studies during the Covid-19 pandemic. The award aims to recognize high school teachers and educators who teach Renaissance studies to high school students.

History teachers who are doing graduate work at Northern Illinois University are encouraged to apply. Please feel free to contact me to discuss your ideas for a pedagogical project to submit.

Here is call for applications from the Renaissance Society of America:

In the wake of the COVID pandemic, high school teachers around the globe have been searching for and creating new ways to immerse their students in the experience of Renaissance culture. In an effort to recognize and share these innovative teaching methods, the RSA is delighted to announce a new competition for the best online teaching projects in secondary education.


The three winners of this competition will each receive an award of $1,000 and will present their projects at a Zoom conference that we plan to make available to a wide range of secondary school teachers, not only current members of the RSA but those who want to learn more about Renaissance studies. The conference will be held on Wednesday, June 30, 2021.


The competition is open to scholars actively engaged in teaching high school students: for instance, museum docents, library curators, and directors of education at theatre companies as well as high school teachers. Proposals from such fields as art history, drama, history, literature, languages, and music are all welcome. The project could include virtual tours of museums, architectural sites, or rare book libraries, or online performances of drama and music. The deadline for proposals is Monday, May 17, 2021. Please email us at rsa@rsa.org with any questions.

Posted in Art History, Cultural History, Early Modern Europe, Early Modern World, European History, Graduate Work in History, Humanities Education, Museums and Historical Memory, Northern Illinois University, Reformation History, Renaissance Art and History, The Past Alive: Teaching History | Leave a comment

2021: The Year of Napoleon

This year is being billed as the “Year of Napoleon” by the French government and the Réunion des Musées Nationaux. Major museum exhibitions and commemorations are planned across France.

Professor Marlene L. Daut (University of Virginia) writes: “After a year in which statues of enslavers and colonizers were toppled, defaced or taken down across Europe and the United States, France has decided to move in the opposite direction. The year 2021 is being hailed by many museums and institutions in the country as the “Year of Napoleon” to commemorate France’s biggest tyrant, an icon of white supremacy, Napoleon Bonaparte, who died 200 years ago on the island of Saint-Helena on May 5, 1821.”

Jacques-Louis David, Napoleon Crossing the Alps (1801)

Professor Daut is right to criticize Napoleon Bonaparte’s record on slavery and human rights issues related to his restoration of slavery in Saint-Domingue. Other historians have condemned Napoleon’s anti-republican politics, authoritarian state-building, imperial propaganda, censorship policies, international law abuses, militarism, and war crimes.

Napoleon’s legacy is complex, but his image has been increasingly appropriated by far-right and nationalist politicians in France in recent decades. Marine Le Pen and other leaders of the Rassemblement National (RN), a far-right nationalist party formerly known as the Front National (FN), have associated themselves with Napoleon’s charismatic nationalist politics and militarism.

Daut emphasizes that “the ‘Year of Napoleon’ has arrived during a dangerous time. French academics who study race, gender, ethnicity and class are under attack. President Emmanuel Macron has derided the field of post-colonial studies by suggesting that it ‘has encouraged the ethnicization of the social question’ to the point that the Republic is in danger of ‘splitting’ apart. The minister of higher education, research and innovation outright called for an investigation, ‘so we can distinguish proper academic research from activism and opinion,’ and said that scholars studying critical race theory and decolonization, along with sexual identity and social class, were promoting ‘Islamo-leftist‘ ideology.”

The fate of the “Year of Napoleon” is certainly not assured in a politically divided France that faces a third wave of coronavirus infections. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and repeated lockdowns in France may disrupt many of the planned exhibitions and events.

The New York Times published an op-ed by Marlene L. Daut on “Napoleon Isn’t a Hero to Celebrate.”

For further context, see the report in Marianne on French President Emmanuel Macron’s plans for commemorations of Napoleon in 2021. RTL reports on the political controversies surrounding commemorations of Napoleon this year. Le Monde reports on the politicization of historical memory in France relating to multiple significant historical anniversaries in 2021.

Posted in Atlantic World, Civil Conflict, Comparative Revolutions, Cultural History, Early Modern Europe, Early Modern World, Empires and Imperialism, European History, French History, French Revolution and Napoleon, Globalization, History of Race and Racism, History of Violence, Museums and Historical Memory, Political Culture, Revolts and Revolutions, War, Culture, and Society, Warfare in the Early Modern World | Leave a comment

A New World Map Innovates

A new world map may transform the way we look at the earth. This map is a two-dimensional double-sided disk centered on the earth’s poles.

Major innovations in the history of cartography are difficult to achieve, despite new digital tools such as Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping. The New York Times reports that “Most of the world maps you’ve seen in your life are past their prime. The Mercator was devised by a Flemish cartographer in 1569. The Winkel Tripel, the map style favored by National Geographic, dates to 1921. And the Dymaxion map, hyped by the architect Buckminster Fuller, debuted in a 1943 issue of Life.”

“Enter a brash new world map vying for global domination. Like sports, the mapmaking game can sometimes grow stale when top competitors are stuck on the same old strategy, said J. Richard Gott, an astrophysicist at Princeton who had previously mapped the entire universe. But then along comes an innovator,” according to The New York Times.

J. Richard Gott, Robert Vanderbei and David Goldberg, Double-sided disk world map, New York Times.

This world map presents a perspective of the globe that is radically different from the classic Mercator projection, which was developed by geographer and cartographer Gerardus Mercator in 1569. Mercator’s projection relies on straight rhumb lines and perpendicular intersections of parallels and meridians, making it practical for maritime navigation.

Gerardus Mercator, Nova et Aucta Orbis Terrae Descriptio ad Usum Navigantium Emendate Accommodata (1569). Wikipedia.

The Mercator projection also became very popular for prestige world maps that showcased empires, kingdoms, and cultures around the world. This map by Claes Jansz Visscher shows how elaborate such prestige world maps became by the mid-seventeenth century.

Claes Jansz Visscher, Nova totius terrarum orbis geographica ac hydrographica tabula (Amsterdam, 1652).
New South Wales State Library

Although competing cartographic solutions to mapping the world have challenged the prominence of Mercator’s world map, his projection is still used in many academic works and news publications today. So, the new double-sided disk map is a welcome development in the history of cartography.

The New York Times reports on the new double-sided disk map.

Posted in Atlantic World, Cartographic History, Digital Humanities, Early Modern World, History in the Media, History of the Western World, Maritime History, Museums and Historical Memory, Renaissance Art and History, World History | Leave a comment

NIU Undergraduate Researcher Publishes Research

I want to highlight the accomplishments of one of our undergraduate students in the Department of History at Northern Illinois University, whose research experiences reminded me of my own experiences conducting research as an undergraduate History Major at the University of Texas at Austin and as a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

NIU Newsroom recently published a nice feature on Jeremy Knoll, one of our undergraduate students in the Department of History.

Jeremy Knoll is a History and Economics double major and an Honors student who did a mentored research project with me on prisoners of war in the American Civil War his freshman year as a Research Rookie.

Jeremy then took my course, HIST 384 The History of War since 1500, which involves intense reading and writing on war and society in the early modern and modern world. The course considers wars and armed conflicts from the Renaissance to today comparatively.

He has gone on to write a paper on Civil War monuments constructed in the state of Illinois from 1865 to 1929, under the direction of Professor Aaron Fogleman. A revised version of this paper will soon be published as an article in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, the leading academic journal of Illinois history. The article contributes new perspectives on the historical memory of the American Civil War and the monument building in the United States.

It is incredibly rare for an undergraduate student to publish their research in an academic journal. So, I am very proud of Jeremy!

The article on Jeremy Knoll’s research is available on NIU Newsroom. I will update this piece when Jeremy’s article is published in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society.

The Research Rookie program at Northern Illinois University provides exciting opportunities for undergraduate researchers to engaged in directed research with faculty mentors. The Department of History at NIU regularly works with Research Rookie students to develop their research projects on themes in United States, European, Latin American, African, Asian, and World History.

Posted in Academic Publishing, Civil Conflict, Cultural History, History in the Media, History of Violence, Illinois History and Society, Material Culture, Museums and Historical Memory, Northern Illinois University, Undergraduate Work in History, United States History and Society, War and Society, War, Culture, and Society | Leave a comment