The Renaissance Hub is a new online magazine, run by Durham postgraduate researchers, that explores the rich and varied tapestry of Renaissance literature, philosophy and art. Rachel Ashcroft, who founded the website with the support of assistant editor Abigail Richards, explains how and why the wheels got turning on this venture.
Impact is a word that academics from all fields will be familiar with. It pops up in career advice presentations (often to a chorus of groans); it floats around the required criteria in funding applications. Impact even appears in debates on the news and social media from time to time. Fortunately the concept itself is fairly straightforward, and the reasoning behind it is admirable. As fully-fledged members of the academic community, of course we want to share our knowledge and passion for our subjects with people outside of the university context. It’s inspiring, exhilarating even, to see ‘ordinary’ people take a genuine interest in what you’ve spent years shedding blood, sweat and tears over at a library desk somewhere. And if you happen to be lucky enough to be a publicly funded PhD student or post doc, then impact really becomes a matter of social responsibility – to give back what you are getting out of the taxpayer.
So if we in the academic community can all agree that impact is a good idea, it just remains to be seen how we go about achieving it. Yet the question of how is much more straightforward for some subject areas (science and engineering I’m looking at you), whereas in others it only leads to bewilderment and a sense of utter resignation. In particular, researchers studying a humanities subject can often feel as though they belong firmly in the latter group. It’s very odd to start asking: ‘How do I create an exhibition out of Montaigne’s dual perception of time in the Essais?’ ‘Does a government body really need me to consult on the reception of Copernicus in the 16th century?’ Of course these questions are simplistic, but they can initially make the whole notion of ‘doing impact’ instantly more problematic for researchers working within these types of fields.After conveniently ignoring these questions for a couple of years, my own answer to this dilemma was to create a new online magazine entitled Renaissance Hub (admittedly after some much-needed encouragement from friend and assistant editor Abigail Richards!). Renaissance Hub will produce a monthly batch of articles, reviews and other features that will hopefully appeal to both a non-academic audience and specialists in the field. Of course, as the title suggests, we will be publishing content based on literature, philosophy and art from the Renaissance (loosely defined as 1450-1650), but we are particularly keen to make parallels between this moment in history and the present day. Furthermore, each month’s issue will be based around a specific theme, and all of our content is peer reviewed so that people can be certain they are accessing reliable and well-thought-out information.
This isn’t just about doing impact in order to tick boxes on a form (although that doesn’t do any harm either). We have created this website because we firmly believe that everyone benefits from learning more about the Renaissance, they just need to be shown how by others who are fortunate enough to study it. What’s more, we feel that everyone should get the chance to learn about and discuss philosophy, history etc. regardless of their educational background, whether that means they are somebody who has never gone through higher education, or simply that they specialise in a STEM subject rather than the humanities. Personally I also feel that due to various factors, the importance of the arts and humanities in society is being gradually eroded. Through Renaissance Hub, I hope to highlight the positive contribution that literature, philosophy, history etc. can make to the way we think about the world now.
The invention of the internet, tweeting and ‘twitterature’, concerns over the rise of ‘texting language.’ Even a very brief look at what was happening to literature in the Renaissance reveals a multitude of connections with the present day.
If we take European literature of the early modern period, it soon becomes clear that people were doing extraordinary new things with it. Inventing wonderfully efficient technology in order to print literature (thanks Gutenberg!), creating whole new literary genres (Michel de Montaigne and the essay), and demonstrating the rich beauty of the common tongue (Shakespeare, Rabelais, the list goes on). Sound familiar? What about the invention of the internet, tweeting and ‘twitterature’, Kindle books and other e-readers, and concerns over the rise of ‘texting language’? Even a very brief look at what was happening to literature in the Renaissance reveals a multitude of connections with the present day. But it’s no good talking about these things solely amongst other specialists. So with Renaissance Hub we want to help people who haven’t had the same opportunities to think about the world in a different way, using the past as a window onto the present. We want people working or studying in other disciplines to be exposed to something new and interesting through the vast medium of exciting thinkers that inhabited the early modern period. The arts and humanities have so much to offer that it seems ridiculous even having to ask the question: ‘How will I create impact?’.
Sometimes the simplest advice is the best. ‘If you don’t see an opportunity, then create one.’ That’s what we are doing with Renaissance Hub. We hope it presents an opportunity for a whole host of people, whether it is the chance to learn something new in a fun and engaging way, or give budding writers with an early modern specialism a space to present their own perspectives on the many connections between then and now. Abi, Jamie Beckett (our reviews editor) and myself hope that our first issue entitled ‘Sex, Lies and Rhetorical Responsibility: ‘Trumping it’ in the Renaissance’, will spark some exciting debate about the nature of politics and debate, looking at how the early modern period can help to inform what is currently a strange and shifting political landscape. So look out on the 1st December for our first issue, and if you want to get involved, there is still time to write an article or review for our 11th November 16:00 deadline (you can find our call for submissions on our website). Thank you for reading!