World-Renowned History Scholar Carole Levin Visits Southwestern
September 26, 2018
September 26, 2018
During this year’s annual History Colloquium, Southwestern will be hosting distinguished scholar Carole Levin, Willa Cather Professor of History and Director of the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Levin is one of the foremost authorities on early modern English women’s and cultural history, and she will be sharing her expertise with the SU community through a staged reading of her play Elizabeth I: To Speak or Use Silence, a “talk-back” following the reading, and a lecture on English queens and the politics of fertility. As with previous colloquium guests, Levin will also visit the Historiography class, a theory and methods seminar on the history of historical writing and the uses and abuses of history. She will assign readings for the day, discuss her own career, and share with students how she has practiced and studied history. History majors and minors will also have the opportunity to talk with Levin over lunch.
This year’s event is being organized by SU Assistant Professor of History Jessica Hower, who first met Levin nine years ago at a conference at Hampton Court Palace celebrating the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII’s accession to the throne. Hower was just a graduate student then, but Levin, already an internationally recognized scholar of Elizabeth I, still took genuine interest in Hower’s work—a meaningful experience that stays with the SU professor even today. This past July, the two reconnected at the seventh Kings and Queens conference on Ruling Sexualities: Sexuality, Gender, and the Crown at Winchester University, where Levin was the keynote speaker. She remembered Hower, asked about Hower’s research and career since their last meeting, and graciously offered to speak at Southwestern. “We are so very excited because Dr. Levin really is an incredible teacher–scholar and has so much to offer our students, faculty, and broader community when it comes to interdisciplinary and transnational work,” Hower says. “It is impossible to overstate her significance in my field, her unparalleled generosity, or her incredible passion and spirit for all that she does.”
Levin’s play examines Queen Elizabeth I as the monarch contemplates her life and reign. We see the Virgin Queen in her youth and in her old age, often simultaneously on stage together, as she reflects on her courtships, the various threats to her life, and religious conflict during her rule. The staged reading will be directed by Tyler Riordan ’20, a theatre and history double major. The actors— portraying such figures as Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn; her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots; and Robert Dudley, one of Elizabeth’s beloved suitors—will be cast by Riordan and will include Southwestern students and faculty from various departments.
The staged reading is a first for the History Colloquium, and it captures the Paideia spirit of making connections across conventional disciplinary boundaries. Hower says that it’s the part of Levin’s visit that she’s most excited about: “Not only is [Levin] a scholar who is arguably the foremost expert on Elizabeth I and gender, queenship, national identity, politics and diplomacy, religion, and ceremony, but she’s also played with all this in an original and really productive way, crossing the lines between history and fiction. So it speaks to the interdisciplinary approach she takes in her own scholarship.” By not just publishing scholarly research in history, literature, theater, and feminist studies but also writing poetry and drama, Levin is able to fill the inevitable gaps of historical inquiry with vividly imagined dialogue and emotion. As Hower remarks, “sometimes [as historians], you might come to know or think that you know something about a subject or figure beyond what you can ‘prove’ given the requirements of our field, and [Levin] airs that [feeling or sense of knowing] in her poems and plays.”
The colloquium lecture is open to the campus community and the public. It traditionally showcases the invited scholar’s academic research while also demonstrating how history can be accessible to various audiences, from professional historians to general audiences. Titled “Changelings, Bastards, and Fantasy Children: Fertility, Infertility, and English Queens from Margaret of Anjou to Mary of Modena,” Levin’s talk focuses on the politics of reproduction in Angevin, Tudor, and Stuart history:
For queens in premodern Europe, their most important function was producing a son in the first years of their marriage. But many did not, and problems with fertility often led to commentary, gossip, and slander that not only were personally painful but often had great political impact. Some contended that a queen who could not have a child pretended to be pregnant and looked for a baby to claim to be hers. Others gossiped that a queen had a baby with a lover instead of with her husband. In one tragic case, a queen who had no children became ill and, delirious, was convinced that she was actually a mother. This paper examines queens—from Henry VI’s wife Margaret of Anjou in the fifteenth century to James II’s wife Mary of Modena at the end of the seventeenth century—who had problems with fertility and what this meant not only to them but to court and country as well.
Levin’s visit is a timely one given the current pop-culture fascination with the Tudors. From Showtime’s four-season bodice-ripper The Tudors to the BBC’s recent adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Man Booker Prize–winning novel Wolf Hall, Tudormania continues to hold audiences in thrall. This December, Universal Pictures is releasing Mary Queen of Scots, starring Saoirse Ronan as the titular monarch and Margot Robbie as Elizabeth I. Given the publicity for the upcoming film, Hower is excited for the opportunity the History Colloquium is providing: “Those who attend the play and lecture will get to see what it means for a historian with a background and training in the archives to practice history and fiction, and then they’ll later get to see how history is created by a major studio with a big budget, sets, and costumes for a popular audience.”
Levin earned her Ph.D. from Tufts University and has received two National Endowment for the Humanities long-term fellowships. Her foundational books include Shakespeare’s Foreign Worlds: National and Transnational Identities in the Elizabethan Age, co-authored with John Watkins (Cornell University Press, 2009); Dreaming the English Renaissance: Politics and Desire in Court and Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008); The Reign of Elizabeth I (Palgrave Macmillan, 2002); and The Heart and Stomach of a King: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Sex and Power (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994), which was named one of the top ten academic books of the 1990s by the readers of Lingua Franca in September 2000. She has worked on two major exhibits: Elizabeth I: Ruler and Legend at the Newberry Library in Chicago and To Sleep Perchance to Dream at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. She is the past president of the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women, the cofounder and president of the Queen Elizabeth I Society, and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society.
The staged reading of Levin’s play and Q&A session will take place at 6 p.m. on Sunday, October 14, 2018, in the Mood-Bridwell Atrium. The lecture will take place at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, October 15, 2018, in the Mood-Bridwell Atrium. The colloquium is sponsored by the Departments of History, Theatre, and English, as well as Feminist Studies, Paideia, and the Global Citizens Fund.