Conference showcases Renaissance magic, Feb. 10-11

Feb. 4, 2005, 7:09 p.m.

Internationally renowned scholars will gather at Princeton Thursday and Friday, Feb. 10-11, for a conference on "Renaissance Magic: Performance, Technology, Theater."

The event, sponsored by the Humanities Council and the Renaissance Studies Committee, and with support from the David A. Gardner '69 Magic Project, starts with a lecture at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, and continues from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, in 106 McCormick.

Topics of discussion will include alchemy and flying machines and the transition from magic to modern science. Another major theme will be the presence of magic on the Renaissance stage, prevalent in works such as Christopher Marlowe's "Dr. Faustus," William Shakespeare's "The Tempest" and Ben Jonson's "The Alchemist."

The conference will feature a live experiment in alchemy, conducted by Lawrence Principe, professor of the history of science and technology and of chemistry at Johns Hopkins University. In 2004, Principe won the inaugural Francis Bacon Award for his work on early modern alchemy and chemistry.

Nigel Smith, professor of English and chair of the Renaissance Studies Committee, said that the conference will underscore the connection between magic and modern science.

"We tend to think of magic as a set of foolish assumptions from which modern science finally escaped in the 17th century," said Smith. "But the two ways of explaining the universe were far more continuous than has been acknowledged. An understanding of magic and its function in the past is a valuable way of reflecting on the role of science and technology in our world," he said.

In connection with the conference, an exhibit, "Renaissance Magic in Books," will be shown in the Main Exhibition Gallery of Firestone Library. It will include eight illustrated manuscripts and printed books dating from the 16th and 17th centuries that depict Renaissance magicians. The items are from the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.

For more information about the conference, visit the Renaissance Studies Committee Web site or contact Peggy Reilly.